Jean O’Connor-Snyder intern Laura Thompson reports on the work of BAMA KIDS Inc. in her thought piece from Camden.
After nurturing children in Wilcox County for more than 25 years, BAMA KIDS Inc. provided a full slate of educational and recreational opportunities for more than 70 children this summer.
Created in 1993 by a group of volunteers inspired by Albert Gordon and the Rev. Frank Smith, BAMA KIDS started with a “lot of enthusiasm and community support” but little money.
Today, thanks to collaborations with people throughout the Camden community and institutions like the University of Alabama in Birmingham and foundations, the organization has produced countless success stories.
Sheryl Treadgill-Matthews, executive director, has poured her heart and soul into BAMA KIDS from the start. After retiring as a social worker, she jumped in as a volunteer and hasn’t stopped yet.
“Sometimes, I feel like an octopus because we are reaching out in every way we can,” Treadgill said.
A Wall of Fame featuring former BAMA KIDS is one testament of the success of the program. “We have former participants who are now teachers, engineers, and doctors,” Threadgill said.
This growing network of alums always steps up to help the next generation of Bama KIDS, she added.
This summer, like many summers before, children from first grade age all the way up, gather at a converted warehouse with space for classrooms, sports and music.
Threadgill is up early every morning to drive a van to make sure all children have a ride. After arriving at the site, she directs a team of certified teachers and volunteers who provide a full day of classes, leadership activities and more.
With a network of community support and assistance from teens to senior citizens, the warehouse buzzes with activity. Music and dance lessons, math instruction and sometimes just plain old fun and games fill the summer days.
“If I get an idea about what I want these children to have, we can make it happen,” Threadgill said.
One highlight of the summer comes when a team of Broadway actors, with the non-profit ZARAAINA, visit to work with the children on a performance. At the end of five days, BAMA KIDS perform for their parents and the community.
The work doesn’t stop at the end of summer. During the school year, BAMA KIDS provides after-school programs Monday through Thursday focused on life skills, health education, the arts and more. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are also provided.
Parents are involved as well, Threadgill said. “In order for our children to be well, our parents and the community have to be well too.”
Laura Thompson, an Auburn University student in the AU Living Democracy program, spent her summer as a Jean O’Connor-Snyder intern working in her hometown of Camden, Alabama.
To read more of Laura’s observations and thoughts living in Camden, visit the Auburn Living Democracy Blog.