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Camp Kinship - Program provides outlet for children, grandparents

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

For several years, the Clayton County Kinship Care Resource Center has provided support to local grandparents who have stepped in to raise their grandchildren.

For the first time, the center is running a free summer camp which gives grandchildren a chance to find enrichment, and gives their caretakers a chance to relax.

Camp Kinship, operated out of the Shelnutt Intergenerational Center in Jonesboro, is a free, all-day summer camp for children ages 5 to 14. Kinship Care Program Coordinator Angie Burda said the program is the first of its kind in the state to focus specifically on the needs of children being raised by their grandparents.

"A lot our grandparents are older, living on Social Security incomes," Burda said. "Summer camp is expensive. Some of our grandparents are raising five, six, [or] seven kids. This gives them a break."

The camp, which began June 1 and will run until July 31, engages children in summer-long, age-specific athletic and learning activities. According to Burda, students regularly use the Clayton County Public Library headquarters in Jonesboro to read and do research, and visit county recreational facilities to swim and participate in other sports. Campers are also treated to special activities such as Field Day and Family Fun Day, and take "a field trip with a purpose" each week to different locations in Georgia, Burda said.

So far, students have marched on Turner Field during an Atlanta Braves game and visited Zoo Atlanta. Later this month, campers will visit the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, and The Rock Ranch, a 1,250-acre cattle ranch owned by Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy. Campers will also visit the Georgia Aquarium, and Noah's Ark Animal Rehabilitation Center and Children's Care Home in Locust Grove.

Donna Green, a Jonesboro grandmother raising a granddaughter, said that while the kids are in camp, grandparents get to take their own trips. One of those trips was a recent outing to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Green said the program not only offers kids and grandparents a respite, but also allows them to do things that might otherwise be out of their financial reach.

"It helps me because I know she [her granddaughter] is in a safe place," Green said. "They take extensive trips and they go to a lot of places we have never been, and probably couldn't afford to. It gives the parents a chance to do things they need to do during the day."

Green said the camp also offers grandparents a chance to connect with one another.

"It definitely helps us with our issues now that we are older," she said. "We check our calendars, we cry together, we network. When you go down the line and see that five or six people are going through the same thing ... you generally leave a lot better."

Burda said in previous years, Kinship Care used grant money to send children on various summer camps around the area. She said the centralized camp is a time- and money-saver for parents, and particularly useful given the state of the economy.

"For a first-year camp, I think we're doing great," Burda said. "We have the full support of our (county) commissioners and that helps a lot. We registered 100 kids. That's our max (limit). Everybody is getting a lot out of it."