Operation Shoestring has been providing after-school and summer activities to children in Jackson for decades – but this year they are making things a little different.
The new venture is called “Project Rise” and activities focused on physical and mental health are falsified throughout the summer. This includes integrating wellness conversations into camp activities such as academic enrichment, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities, outdoor sports, swimming lessons and mentoring programs.
This year’s camp serves about 125 students from third to fifth grade for a period of six weeks – free of charge.
His summer and school year programs support children in the Jackson and Subway public school systems. Jackson students are mostly from low-income color families: 95% of students are black and 73.8% of students are on a free or reduced lunch.
For Luquinta Williams, the camp was a huge help to her family. Williams is the single mother of Marquim and Akira, students at Walton Elementary School, who also attend Operation Shoestring’s summer programs.
She believes that summer programs are especially important for her son Markiem, whose father recently died.
“He likes to talk to them and usually doesn’t like to talk to people,” she told camp staff. “He feels comfortable with them.”
She also said the camp helped her work.
“Raising children without help is a lot of money,” she said. “… We value everything. This is the best service we’ve had. They even offer us breakfast when we leave our children. ”
Babysitting is difficult to do on her own, she said, and she has paid for other summer camps and activities over the past summers. Free activities at Operation Shoestring mean she doesn’t have those extra costs this year.
Robert Langford, chief operating officer of Operation Shoestring, said the pressure the COVID-19 pandemic was exerting on colored communities, complicated by the enormous stress caused by the 2020 murders of George Floyd and Ahmoud Arbury and the ensuing social justice movement, created an urgent need in families across the country – especially in the Jackson community.
Recent studies show that the symptoms of depression and anxiety in young people have doubled during the pandemic, with 25% of young people experiencing depressive symptoms and 20% experiencing symptoms of anxiety.
The suicide rate among black children was rising even before the pandemic, and black children are now nearly twice as likely to die from suicide as white children, according to the U.S. Surgeon’s Office. And children from low-income families are two to three times more likely to develop mental health disorders than those from higher-income families – striking statistics for a state like Mississippi, where about 30 percent of its children are poor.
To address the need for mental health support, Operation Shoestring weaves “positive, affirmative language” into its classrooms and activities, and focuses on physical health and well-being, Langford said.
The organization has partnered with a nutritionist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to illustrate the importance of nutrition to overall health, such as conducting cooking and eating classes and creating healthy recipes.
The children at the camp will also take part in a baking class at Urban Foxes, a local family pie shop.
Langford said Operation Shoestring appreciates the opportunity to give students the opportunity to explore open spaces, which they do in partnership with St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and the Pearl River Guardians, an organization that works to conserve Pearl River biodiversity by cleaning and testing and water monitoring.
In St. Andrew’s students are encouraged to take part in various activities, such as basketball, football or wellness classes.
During a wellness class on Monday, Lauren Powell, director of the wellness school and counselor at the upper schools, made the children think about what it means to practice wellness and be careful – including laughter, physical activity, dancing and positive affirmations. The students then created a drawing that included five to six positive characteristics about themselves, such as brave, curious, intelligent and kind.
Students like to relocate cupid and other dances to wake up and prepare before any other activities, she said, and the dances set the campers’ tone to be more expressive.
Powell said she enjoys working with this age group because they are able to express their emotions without embarrassment.
Asked how to deal with children who may come from different backgrounds, Powell explained that St. Andrew uses something called “asset formation” to enable children to be identified first by their assets and aspirations before their own. challenges or deficits.
“These children come from very rich cultures and very, very rich family traditions,” she said.
Operation Shoestring also continues its tradition of offering support to campers’ parents. He provided financial support to families in need during the height of the pandemic and now hosts two separate support groups for parents, one at Cultivation Food Hall and the other at Ecoshed.
“We really want to understand how we can build a world that is fair to all. “And we have a special responsibility in Mississippi for our past to do what we can with what we have where we are,” Langford said. “So we see ourselves as an organization, as a place to provide direct services and mediate relationships with other people to build a healthier, fairer and more compassionate world.”