By Jesse Kirsch, abc7chicago.com
At Camp Mathieu, summer sounds, summer eats, and summer smiles fill the air–all inspired by carefree fun.
“I really like to go swimming with all the other kids, hang out in the rec hall with all the other kids. It’s just fun… just to be with other people and not have to worry about how dangerous it is,” explained Jeremiah Palmore.
The 15-year-old know’s what could happen at home is bad.
“If you’re on the West Side, anything can happen. You can just be walking down the street and get shot at any time,” he said pointedly.
And so Camp Mathieu, in Wheaton, is more than just an out-of-town treat for Chicago children; it’s what camp director Ralph Campagna calls a clear solution to gun violence.
“Remove them from that environment and put them in this environment where they’re safe,” he said.
Campagna would know. He grew up on Chicago’s West Side, and spent summers at Camp Mathieu. Its become his life’s work to help the next generation of neighborhood kids have the same fun by running this camp and its parent organization, the Off The Street Club.
“I don’t know where I would be without Off The Street Club. It literally has saved my life as it has done for so many hundreds of kids over the years,” said the club’s associate director, Arnett Morris.
Morris is Campagna’s protégé. He was a camper and now has taken on the organization’s mission full-time.
This week, about 50 kids stayed at Camp Mathieu. Next week a new group will climb atop the bunk beds.
Its part of Off The Street Club’s “Save Our Summer,” or SOS program. For just $500, the organization gives a child one week at Camp Mathieu and provides that child with day camp in Chicago the rest of the summer.
But beyond keeping kids busy, the camp builds family.
No one– not even a stranger– comes or goes at Camp Mathieu without a hug, or 50.
On July 21, the annual Firefly Ball, at the Art Institute, will raise money so that 500 kids can share in this joy.
“When these kids stand up against all that they face on the West Side, you can do nothing less than stand up with them,” said Campagna.
A way to help Chicago’s children have a summer worth remembering.