For spring break, instead of joining the bandwagon and partying at Cancun, Mexico or Panama City Beach, Fla., 12 college students from the University of Missouri volunteered last week at the Fort Campbell Armed Services YMCA.
The college students worked with the ASYMCA, located on Reed Street, to help prepare 25, 4-to 5-year-old preschoolers for elementary school.
The University of Missouri is part of Alternative Breaks, a large organization that sends 40 site leaders and participants to various locations to help communities.
“I just found out two weeks ago … I think it’s worked out really well,” said site leader Jayme Gardner, a senior. “The participants that we have and the way that they are and their personalities work well with that age group.”
During camp, the children were put in animal groups of five and were given different activities each day. Among the activities was when an education naturalist from Animal Tales, a company that provides nature and zoo animal education, brought a raccoon, an owl, a porcupine, a toad and a snake, which were the names of the groups, for the children to observe.
“[They] learned about the animals, [colored, had relays and obstacle courses, played tag] and [made] art and crafts,” said Gardner. “They had a potato and stuck little toothpicks in it and eyes on it, and made it a porcupine.
The preschoolers were also taught team challenges and the importance of team work.
“I really like the challenge [activities],” said freshman student Kristin Ayer. “As their leader, we can encourage them to encourage their teammates and teach them to be positive and help each other out.”
By the end of camp week, the students saw growth in the preschoolers’ understanding of restraint and teamwork.
“It’s funny, in the beginning of the week, [some of the children] wouldn’t understand why they didn’t get to pick up a ball or do whatever,” explained Gardner. “Now, they’re cheering each other on and telling me things like ‘I can’t do anything without my team.’”
“It’s been really cool to see the development of the kids,” said Morris. “It’s been good to see how well they’ve adjusted.”
The spring break program also richly helped a few of the non-ASYMCA preschoolers who are not able to interact with their peers regularly.
“Even in the short four or five days we’ve been with them, we’ve already seen them starting to not only understand the rules, but [being] excited to follow the rules,” Gardner said.
The ASYMCA usually has programs to assist preschoolers, but this year, opted for a different kind of pre-registration program.
“We normally do programs like Our Little Heroes program, which is a preschool program that we do for kids whose parents are deployed…,” said director Shirley West. “We decided that we’d do a spring break camp.”
To register a child for spring break camp, certain qualifications were required.
“One of our criteria was that they had to be 4 [years-old] by the beginning of the school year, last year in September,” said adventure camp coordinator Susan King.
“We looked for E-5s and below; it’s our focus.”
Site leaders, Gardner and junior Skylar Morris, both agree that donating their time is one of the “highest forms of service.”
“Spring break for me now is service,” Gardner said. “I’ve always really like to go and see other communities and learn about other people.”
On Friday, senior Chi Him Ng, showed emotions as she was handed an “I’ll miss you” card from a preschool girl.
“It’s bittersweet,” Ng said.
Preschooler Tyler Arnone, 4, had a positive change after camp.
“I think it helped him become more open with people he didn’t know very well,” his mother Jennifer Arnone said. “[He] was excited to go to a camp that his older brother and sister weren’t going to.”
Before the students left Saturday, they helped hide eggs for the ASYMCA egg hunt at Camp Hinsch.
“We probably had about 800 people; we hid over 10,000 eggs,” West said.
Spring break camp taught preschoolers new activities and discipline while giving UM students a chance to mingle with the Fort Campbell community, experience Soldiers’ homecoming and personally see how children deal with deployments: a lesson they will never forget.
“Every night we have reflection,” explained Gardner. “I think for a lot of us it’s been really awesome… [being here] put into perspective, what a lot of these kids are going through.”