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Photo by Rebecca Blackwell © 2003 Town Topics

SERIOUS FUN: Along with other local middle school students, Mackenzie Brutus, 12, recently focused on learning computer skills during Community House's Computer Summer Camp at Princeton University. End of caption.

Princeton Youngsters Receive Computer Learning at University's Community House Summer Camp

By David McNutt

This summer, several local middle school students kept up on their learning by attending Community House's Computer Summer Camp at Princeton University.

"We offer an affordable alternative that enriches these students' education in a safe, fun environment," said Marjorie Young, the director of Community House. "The idea is to help them continue to progress in their learning over the summer."

The four-week camp, which concluded August 1, offered academic learning and recreational activities for underserved youngsters from Princeton and children of University employees.

For the modest fee of $25, the students were provided with an opportunity to attend alternate sessions of a computer instruction course and a Math or Reading Challenge class each day, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Along with the courses, students enjoyed recreational activities – including swimming, football, and chess – and field trips to locations such as the Wall Street Journal, the NBC Studios, Honeybee Robotics, and Hurricane Harbor.

The camp – funded by a $50,000 grant from an anonymous Princeton University graduate, the Pace Center for Community Service, and the University's Office of Religious Life – is one of several programs offered by Community House.

A collection of Princeton University students and staff committed to responding to needs identified by the immediate area, Community House seeks to enrich, empower, and renew the lives of underserved children and families in Princeton through educational, cultural, and recreational programs.

Through its discussions with its community partners – which include Corner House, Princeton Young Achievers, and the Princeton Regional School District – Community House was able to identify a true, academic need.

"We found that there was a need for a summer program for middle school students," explained Ms. Young. "These kids aren't quite old enough to have jobs or to stay at home, and for some parents, it creates a dilemma."

When that need led to the creation of the Computer Summer Camp in 2001, there were 12 students. Since that time, Ms. Young has witnessed an expanded interest in the program and the perpetuation of a community-wide vision.

"A few years ago, the computer summer camp was just a suggestion," she stated. "Now, we have 40 kids here. It's become a very popular camp. The kids learn a lot while having fun. Hopefully, this camp will inspire these students to get their degrees and maybe even attend Princeton University."

Equally Beneficial

For their part, the middle school students seem to agree with Ms. Young's assessment.

"I like working on the computers and having fun with my friends," said Kathy Altamirano, 13, of Princeton, one of Community House's summer campers. "I think I'll be more ready for school this next year."

Keisha Brown, 11, of Princeton enjoyed learning the Flash program during the computer sessions, taking a field trip to Hurricane Harbor, and learning under the Math Challenge program. "I think the Math Challenge will help me and make me better at math next year," she said.

When asked what he would say to anyone interested in the computer camp, Garo Youssoufian, 13, also from Princeton, said, "I'd tell them that it's really worth the time and that they'd have a lot of fun."

For Ms. Young, her work at Community House provides an opportunity to return a meaningful favor.

At the age of 11, she moved to Princeton with her family from Haiti. When they arrived, the family could not speak English, but they were soon assisted and educated by members of the community.

"I credit those people for how I speak English now and for my desire to be in this field," said Ms. Young, who attended St. Paul School and Princeton High School prior to graduating from Douglass College at Rutgers University.

"I consider my job a blessing," she added. "I'm able to do for these kids what was once done for me. Princeton is the kind of community where a lot of that is going on."

That kind of spirit is, according to Ms. Young, precisely the attitude sought by the creators of Community House.

In the Community

In 1969, Community House was founded by an interracial group of seven undergraduates to address the fundamental needs and inequalities that existed in Princeton's John-Witherspoon community.

The students turned their attention toward the Princeton community after discovering several shocking statistics.

At that time, according to Community House, the average years of schooling for African Americans over the age of 25 in Princeton was 10.3 years, while that of white males was more than 16 years. Similarly, at that time, African Americans comprised roughly 10 percent of Princeton's population, but resided in 40 percent of its 130 substandard dwelling units.

With such dichotomies in mind and in an effort to foster close relationships with the youth they wished to help, the original Community House was established at 164 Witherspoon Street.

Once the members of the neighborhood recognized the group's genuine concern for issues affecting their lives, they began to recommend services that would have a direct, positive impact.

Located in the University's Carl Fields Center since 1995, Community House now exists primarily as a mechanism for community service where creative ideas become a reality through productive service projects.

Its range of programs benefit a variety of people, including youths in need of meaningful educational, cultural, and social outlets; adults in need of literacy training; mothers and young children in need of assistance in acquiring preschool readiness; or elderly people in need of companionship.

"We really enjoy our strong bonds with our community partners that help us determine what the important needs are and where to put our time, energy, and resources," said Ms. Young. "We're committed to Princeton."

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