The Nueva Esperanza Conference and Retreat Center will offer a camp to 300 children over the course of six weeks. Initially, it will be a venture involving four schools in the Olney cluster of the School District of Philadelphia; the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; and Nueva Esperanza, which was founded in 1987 by Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity.
``We have children in our community who do well and are not rewarded. There are no services for kids who do achieve,'' said the Rev. Luis Cortes, president of Nueva Esperanza and executive director of Hispanic Clergy, a group of about 50 Protestant ministers. ``So we decided to address that and create a program just for them.''
The camp's initial six-week session will be offered to selected children who are graduating from the fourth grade at three Olney Cluster elementary schools and will be attending the Roberto Clemente Middle School. All of the schools are in Hunting Park.
Graduating fourth graders from the Bayard Taylor Elementary School, the Alexander McClure Elementary School, and the Cayuga Elementary School who have worked hard and exhibited good attendance during the year will be selected to go to camp by their teachers.
Several students who have already completed a year at the Clemente Middle School and will be entering the sixth grade in the fall also will attend the camp serving as ``ambassadors'' to the incoming students.
``This will make the transition even easier for the younger fourth- grader student coming into [middle school],'' said Patricia Mazzuca, principal of the 1,500-student Clemente Middle School. ``The camp will help to establish the rules and regulations as well as form a buddy system for younger children. Once they see a friendly face in a school environment, someone they've already shared experiences with, it's easier to make the transition.''
School teachers and counselors will be invited to volunteer at the camp, Mr. Cortes said.
In the next few years, the agency plans to expand the camp program to include children in the Edison and Kensington Clusters, which includes schools in Kensington, Hunting Park and North Philadelphia - communities where there are large numbers of Latino students.
``The camp is for any child from our community,'' Mr. Cortes said. ``We are here to serve our community, and it's more than just Latino.'' The children will be transported to the site, which is near Pottstown.
For its first season, the camp will offer single-sex week-long sessions for $20 per child. (A girls' week will alternate with a boys' week.) The weekly cost to the agency for each student is about $220. Nueva Esperanza will subsidize the balance.
The purchase of the campground and retreat center is being funded by loans and donations from corporations and individuals. Nueva Esperanza is embarking on a $1.7 million capital campaign to raise funds for the project.
Mr. Cortes and other representatives of Nueva Esperanza have begun meeting with North Coventry Township officials and residents to introduce themselves to their new neighbors. The township may be interested in buying a portion of the 150-acre site from Nueva Esperanza to expand a park next to the campground known as the Wilderness, said Robert Layman, township manager.
The campground currently has two residence halls, a lodge and basketball and tennis courts. Nueva Esperanza plans to add additional dorms, a gymnasium, a chapel and an indoor game room with such pastimes as Ping-Pong and chess, but no video games. Each day at the camp will focus on a theme including health, the arts, sports and science and technology.
``This is a win-win kind of relationship, with an array of valuable services that will be provided to children, schools and families,'' said Theresa Lemme, head of the Olney Cluster.
The archdiocese will provide meals to students at the camp through its Summer Food Service Program, a federally funded program that provides meals for children under 18 from low-income backgrounds.
The campground purchase is another in a series of moves by Nueva Esperanza to expand the services it offers in the community.
Since its founding, Nueva Esperanza has opened a North Philadelphia laundromat, built housing, provided job training, and developed an Internet service provider. The Pew Charitable Trusts awarded the agency a $215,000 grant in 1995. In the next few months, the group will open a children's health agency staffed by Latino physicians and health professionals.
``We want to open Latino-owned-and-operated institutions that service our community,'' Mr. Cortes said. ``There's a saying out there about teaching people to fish for themselves. But if you teach them to own a pond, someone will fish for you. In a community that is economically impoverished, that has to be the goal.''