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Senior community enriches summer for local kids

There’s a special kind of learning going on at Mt. San Antonio Gardens. Seventeen kids from CLASP (Claremont After-School Programs) are finishing up a month-long summer camp, held on the senior community’s scenic campus.

On afternoons during the school year, CLASP provides homework help, supervision and enrichment to kids at risk of falling through the educational cracks. Some students come from socioeconomically disadvantaged households, while others have parents who are unable to help with homework because they speak no English. Families pay for the program as they can, with no one turned away for lack of money. 

The summer camp is a pilot program, spearheaded by Mt. San Antonio Gardens (MSAG) resident Carole Harter. Ms. Harter—advisor for CLASP’s Tutor Recruitment & Retention Committee—says it all started when the Gardens’ new CEO Maureen Beith approached her and said, “What’s all this about CLASP?”

Ms. Harter explained that, while the Gardens has plenty of potential volunteers among its largely retired residents, the campus isn’t suitable to fit the recreational needs of CLASP students. The administrator looked at Ms. Harter and said, “How about a summer camp?”

It was already March, and so Ms. Harter feared there wouldn’t be enough time to organize the camp. However, once both the CLASP and MSAG boards green-lighted the collaboration, things moved quickly.

A core group of residents, including Ms. Harter, Evelyn Diaz Brown and Debbie Griffin, reached out to the Gardens community to see who was willing to lend time and expertise to a group of CLASP kids.

“What my philosophy about this program has been from the very get-go is that it had to be fun for everyone involved or it would definitely not be successful,” Ms. Harter said.

On Tuesday, there was definitely fun afoot. The children were engaged in a bird walk under the guidance of residents and Pomona Valley Audubon Society members Ed Babcock and Gloria Slosberg.

The kids, who had been equipped with binoculars, were first directed to take in the sight of a robin perched on a tall tree. “You have to see the bird with your eyes before you put your binoculars on,” Mr. Babcock advised. “And remember, the first rule of bird-watching is you don’t bother the birds.”

James Nguyen, 7, was the first to spot the red-breasted creature. “I see it. It’s awesome. That’s a robin, alright,” he said.

James’ 5-year-old sister Jade took only a moment longer to zero in on the bird. “I found it!” she exclaimed.

The party next went on to examine a nook of a MSAG building. There on a ledge beneath the eaves was a mourning dove sitting on an egg. “Mothers and fathers share sitting on a nest for two weeks,” Mr. Babcock noted.

The students are broken up into two groups of seven and 10, arriving at staggered times. Along with science, they attend a language arts class taught by retired teachers Norma Wilson and Virginia Relf. The unit includes reading, writing and discussion.

“One of the important things CLASP does during the year is a lot of one-on-one talking about what the kids have read,” Ms. Harter said. “Over and over, I’ve had teachers tell me that it’s the chance to talk that makes the most difference.”

There is also a music component and, again, the residents have stepped up to share their resources. One Gardener played a horn for the children. Another brought in several members of their musical family to sing opera songs to the students.

The kids’ hands-down favorite activity seems to be taking a refreshing dip in the Mt. San Antonio Gardens pool. Another portion of the summer camp that has been especially successful is lunch.

An assigned lunch buddy takes the kids through the Gardens’ buffet. They then sit among the Gardeners and enjoy the food and company.

“I know what I get from sitting and talking to a little kid,” Ms. Harter said. “I get a different perspective on the world, and I think the kids’ lives are richer from sitting with us.”

The pilot program has been fun for everyone involved. There is talk that the Gardens may offer a summer camp for CLASP kids next year. It would have to once more be approved by both boards, and is contingent on CLASP having sufficient funding for things like transportation. 

One person who thinks a repeat performance is a good idea is Julien Aquino, a third grader at Mountain View Elementary School who has been a CLASP participant since first grade.

“I like it because we get to play games,” he said of the summer camp. “I’m having fun.”

CLASP sessions for the 2015-2016 school year begin September 14 and end in mid-May. They are held at Claremont Presbyterian Church, Blaisdell Community Center, Claremont Village Apartments and Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Community members can help support the efforts of CLASP in a number of ways. Contributions of money and supplies are always welcome. The most needed resource, however, for this volunteer-driven program is time.   

CLASP volunteers who sign up to be substitute tutors can contribute as little as two hours a year. Other people opt to spend more time with the program, tutoring the kids from between one to three afternoons a week.

To find out how you can help, call (909) 204-0127, visit clasp4kids.org or email clasp.office@gmail.com.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com