Ahh, summer. A time for kids to have fun and families to recharge.
If you’re a low-income family, however, the summer months can bring a lot of stress.
Providing nutritious meals and a supportive, enriching environment is much harder when school is out of session.
More than 805,000 low-income children in North Carolina are eligible to receive a free lunch during the school year, according to the Department of Public Instruction.
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Yet last summer, only 10 percent of these children received meals in the summer.
“The summer break should be an enjoyable time for students,” says State Superintendent June Atkinson. “Unfortunately, that may not be the case for many students because of hunger.”
To address this challenge, the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option were established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that economically disadvantaged children receive nutritious meals when school is not in session.
The USDA has also identified 47 counties in North Carolina – nearly half of the counties in the state – as high priority or “Strike Force” counties. The Strike Force campaign is intended to leverage local partnerships in high-poverty areas to ensure every community’s children have equal access to summer nutrition programs. This past summer, North Carolina had 166 sponsoring agencies and 2,208 summer nutrition sites across the state where children could receive nutritious meals at no cost.
In Wake County, there are 193 sites including New Bethel Summer Camp, Camp Can, the Boys and Girls Club of Wake County Teen Center, and Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center’s Village Café. These sites are all listed on the Department of Public Instruction’s Summer Food Service Program website. And though coverage is widely distributed, the state’s School Nutrition Services chief Lynn Harvey says the need for summer nutrition sponsoring agencies and sites is at an all time high.
In addition to trying to get a square meal for their children, families need a safe, constructive place for their children to play and learn. For all children, the “summer slide” poses a challenge. But, according to the National Learning Association, low-income students lose two to three months of reading during the summer. By fifth grade, they can end up two and a half to three years behind their peers.
Public libraries are often on the front lines of trying to fight the summer slide. Still, for low-income families who don’t live close to a library or don’t have flexible schedules, getting to a library-sponsored reading program isn’t an option.
As an alternative, elementary schools across the state have launched summer reading programs in which low-income students are mailed books matching their interests and abilities and receive phone calls from their teachers throughout the summer. Many of these books are provided by a statewide campaign through the N.C. Department of Public Instruction called “Give Five – Read Five” in which community volunteers are asked donate five books or more to their local elementary schools. Last year, more than 500,000 books were collected – almost double the previous year.
In addition to stemming learning loss, how do all children experience summer fun regardless of background?
There are a growing number of options for families for whom camp is a luxury they can’t afford. The Triangle Community Foundation, for example, runs the Send a Kid to Camp program in partnership with the Kiwanis Club of Raleigh and 20 camps throughout the region.
Since 1993, The North Carolina Bankers Association Foundation has been running the Camp Challenge – a weeklong summer camp experience for high-achieving, low-resource students from across North Carolina. Each year, hundreds of students attend Camp Challenge at YMCA’s Camp Weaver in Greensboro at no cost to their families, thanks to donations from many generous partners.
The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund is sending more than 1,000 kids to 37 camps this year through donations from Observer readers and the community. One scholarship recipient, Dey’Mauriey Williams, was 9 when his dad died in a motorcycle accident. The funds allowed him to attend Camp Celo – an outdoor therapy camp in the mountains. When he returned, his mom says he was profoundly changed.
“He was actually a kid, he was 100 percent active – he just wanted to play outside.”
Similar scholarship opportunities are offered through museums including The N.C. Museum of Art, Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh and Charlotte’s Discovery Place. YMCA also has a mission of making its camps affordable and accessible.
As Ella Fitzgerald famously sang, “summertime and the livin’ is easy.” The more we can help make this true for all families the better.
Christopher Gergen is CEO of Forward Impact, a fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Duke University, and author of Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives. Stephen Martin is deputy chief of staff at the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter through @cgergen.