AKA in Memphis brings the joy of reading to youth at Camp Hope
By: David Ibata
When the public schools in Memphis, Tennessee, ended a summer camp program several years ago, the Beta Epsilon Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority searched for a new home for its children’s summer reading outreach.
“As Alpha Kappa Alpha, we’re focused on trying to help children, and our reading program is one of our signature initiatives,” said Annetta A. Hamilton, chairperson of the Freda Franklin Greene Summer Reading Program, named for a longtime BEO chairperson who was one of the founders of the program 45 years ago.
“We were looking for another place where we could make a difference in the lives of children, and we heard about Camp Hope at The Salvation Army,” Hamilton said. A delegation visited the Purdue Center of Hope. “We shared our vision of a reading program. They just welcomed us with open arms.”
Beta Epsilon Omega members recently spent a week at Camp Hope working with about 40 children, ages kindergarten through 12th grade.
Most BEO volunteers are present or retired educators. Some are sorority sisters in other professions who rearrange work hours or use vacation time so they can help at the camp. Others are undergraduate student members from the University of Memphis and LeMoyne-Owen College.
“They rapped about verbs, learned about Sequoia trees and how to say ‘hello’ in French, Spanish and Swahili,” says a Salvation Army Facebook posting.
“Camp Hope is our camp program for children in residence at the Purdue Center,” said Gwen Hooper, spokeswoman for The Salvation Army Memphis Metropolitan Area Command. “They’re children of displaced families, whose mothers are trying to find stability.”
It’s hard for youngsters, especially those experiencing homelessness, to remember lessons from the regular school year, Hooper said. “The lack of stability, even just being in a state of transition all the time, really impacts their ability to retain what they’ve learned and to progress in the fall. So for us, this is an opportunity for children to continue growing and be supported.”
Hamilton is a retired educator who taught for 42 years in a Memphis elementary school and has been the reading program’s chair for the last 20. The effort started in a Catholic Church, then moved to a YWCA, and for a time was hosted by the city schools.
“We don’t just do reading,” Hamilton said. “We do reading skills, we do language skills, and we have even added music and arts. But we try to focus, with little children, on basic skills – knowing the alphabet, being able to recognize letters and beginning and ending sounds; and older children, on comprehension, helping them improve their reading.”
Several volunteers who are present or retired guidance counselors also work on career awareness with older students – “children deciding what they want to do in life, helping them to plan what they need to take in high school so the courses will benefit them,” Hamilton said.
“We do a wide range of activities, trying to give children experiences that will benefit them right now and in the future,” Hooper said. “At the end of the week, the AKAs have a celebration. They honor the children, provide them with rewards” —this year, a drawstring backpack with books and treats – “and allow them to present the lessons learned during the week.”
The chapter also donates school uniforms at the beginning of each school year.
The ladies of Beta Epsilon Omega , Hooper said, “are a real blessing. We’re just really happy to have a partner like them in the community.”