HARTFORD, CT, July 13, 2012 – An innovative music program and a farm-to-fork meals initiative to encourage healthy eating habits have been introduced to Trinity’s highly successful Dream Camp program for elementary through high school students. The summer camp and year-round academic mentoring program, run in partnership with the ESF Dream Camp Foundation, provide a fun, educational and safe environment for about 250 Hartford-area children in the summer months, and up to 100 students during the academic year. Among its goals are to close the achievement gap among Hartford students and their suburban peers, combat summer learning loss, and increase success in school and the likelihood that campers will attend college.
The new music program, led by David Veslocki, a graduate of Yale University’s music program, has captivated the imagination of the younger campers, who are being introduced to the guitar, piano, drums, and how to compose rap music. Older campers will also learn to breakdance with special visitor Jacob “Jake the Snake” Hill, a professional break dancer from Austin, TX.
Another exciting development this summer is the expansion of last year’s one-day healthy eating pilot program into an everyday affair. The purpose of the program is to expose campers to nutritious food in order to combat childhood obesity and to show them that nutritious food can be delicious.
The farm-to-fork meals are being provided in collaboration with the Vetri Foundation for Children’s “Eatiquette” program, which supports the creation of environments that encourage children to make healthy lifestyle choices. The Vetri Foundation is led by Marc Vetri, who has been named one of Food & Wine’s Ten Best Chefs and received the James Beard Award for “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic” in 2005.
This year’s on-site head chef is Tia McDonald, a native of Hartford and a 1998 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Among the places she has worked are the Hyatt Grand Central in New York City; the Troutbeck Inn, a 5-diamond inn in Amenia, NY; and Oceana restaurant in New York City. She has extensive knowledge of seafood cooking and rustic Italian and Sicilian cuisine. McDonald joined the Aramark team in 2000, serving in various venues, including the University of Pennsylvania and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and she was the development chef for Aramark Education K-12.
“I feel like I’ve come full circle,” said McDonald of her return to Hartford. “I’m giving back to the community that I grew up in. I attended Noah Webster, a school with children from many backgrounds.”
McDonald readily acknowledged that not all of the children devour every morsel on their plates, in part because the foods are unfamiliar to their palates. But she is optimistic that the more the campers are exposed to healthy eating, the more they will enjoy it. “If nothing else, they’re trying different foods,” she said. “We’re trying to open their minds and hoping they will bring the recipes back to their families.”
In addition to the healthy eating and nutrition—which also teaches campers proper dining etiquette—and music programs, younger campers engage in visual and performing arts, learn about a different country each week, take arts and crafts, and engage in team building and conflict resolution exercises.
In terms of performing arts, the younger students will present Disney’s Aristocat on July 20 and the older students, who also take a class in creative and performing arts, will present The Wizard of Oz on August 3.
The older campers participate in activities such as robotics, college awareness and admissions, SAT preparation, and navigating through college and financial aid applications, as well as nutrition and healthy living through athletics, among them volleyball, soccer, football, handball, basketball, and tennis.
In addition, twenty 15 and 16 year olds will participate in an enhanced reading initiative for Mentors-in-Training (MIT)—campers who show exceptional leadership and serve as counselors-in-training—during which they will read The Other Wes Moore and The Boys of ’67, maintain a journal, and meet for a weekly book discussions. As a culminating event, Lt. General Martin R. Steele, USMC (Ret.), one of the inspirations for the latter book, will visit camp to talk about leadership on July 19. Both the MIT and expanded reading program are funded by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
Over the years, Dream Camp has been so successful that its attendance rate is well above 90%, and students can remain in the program for up to 12 years as campers and counselors-in-training. According to site director Dan Swartz, not only do the children return year after year, but many former campers become full-fledged counselors (about 27 percent of camp staff). All of the campers-turned-counselors are already attending college or will be entering college in the fall—including three enrolled at Trinity and two who will attend Brown University.
Trinity student and counselor Darien Franco ’15 has been attending Dream Camp since he was a 9th grader for the simple reasons that it’s a “very enjoyable experience,” it enables him to make new friends, and it’s fun. Similarly, Jared Jackson ’14 says he’s met people he otherwise would never have met, especially since he’s been a regular at Dream Camp since he was in the 4th grade. “It goes to show that when we care about kids and provide high standards, there are going to be a lot of success stories,” said Swartz.
Financial support for Trinity’s Dream Camp is provided by an anonymous College alumnus and friends of the school; the Travelers Foundation; the Bank of America Foundation, Inc.; the Ensworth Charitable Foundation; The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving; George A. and Grace L. Long Foundation; The William and Alice Mortensen Foundation; the Charles Nelson Robinson Fund; and Versa Products Company, whose president Jan Larsson is a graduate of Trinity’s Class of 1977.
Every year, Dream Camp has more applicants than space available, with a current waiting list of about 35 children. Contributions are welcome to help make it possible for more children to attend Dream Camp. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on making a contribution and visit www.trincoll.edu/UrbanGlobal/CUGS/community/dreamcamp/Pages/default.aspx for more information on Dream Camp’s program.