Hyde Park Refugee Project 2019 Summer Enrichment Camp Doubles the Fun

Although the long days of summer provide a needed break from the hustle and bustle of the school year, studies indicate that the “summer slide,” as it is known, can take a toll, especially on kids for whom English is not the first language. For the second consecutive year, the Hyde Park Refugee Project has undertaken a summer camp to help support refugee and immigrant families in the community, providing children a fun and enriching summer experience to bolster their learning.

Located in the Hyde Park neighborhood, HPRP’s camp is a much-needed program. While both RefugeeOne and World Relief have summer programs for children, their location on the far North side of the city make it difficult for families in our community to participate. For this reason, last summer, HPRP piloted a two-week summer camp that served 20 children. After the successful conclusion of the 2018 camp, HPRP began planning an expanded four-week camp that would serve more children.

University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration intern, Samantha Steinmetz, began camp planning in January, including activities, schedules, and materials. Steinmetz’s experience working for Simply Smiles, a non-profit organization that hosts summer camp and community development programs on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota, helped give structure to the expanded HPRP camp, adding morning meetings, field trips, and elective activities for campers.

As part of the expanded camp planning, HPRP volunteers applied for and received a grant from the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church Mission Endowment Fund to offer field trips for the kids, an addition that proved tremendously popular and successful.

The first week of camp featured hands-on activities at the Hyde Park Art Center, and summercamp2lunch at Harold Washington Park. The second week included an exciting trip on Metra to downtown Chicago to visit Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park, where children played in the Crown Fountain and examined their reflections in Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture. The final field trip of the summer was to the Lincoln Park Zoo where the children broke into groups to do a zoo scavenger hunt in the indoor exhibits, and tried to keep cool on a swelteringly hot Chicago summer day. Both children and many parents saw new places and came home tired, but happy!

With only one paid staff member, camp coordinator, Olivia Issa, the HPRP summer camp relied on a strong base of volunteers. Over 30 student volunteers acted as camp counselors, working directly with children to lead and support activities, and most of all to play and have fun. In addition, volunteers offered a great number of other services, including:

  • Driving children to and from camp
  • Leading nature outings in the neighborhood
  • Teaching swim lessons in the afternoons
  • Organizing visiting musical guests
  • Shopping and cooking for camp snack
  • And working one-on-one for individual tutoring


One of the most important in-kind donations was the donation of space for the four-week camp by a member of the Hyde Park & Kenwood Interfaith Council, without which the camp could not have taken place. Three members of the Council – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Augustana Lutheran Church and KAM Isaiah Israel – were especially active in supporting the 2019 camp. Other in-kind donations of art supplies, office supplies, educational materials, food and snacks, and even towels for swimming, came directly as donations from the community.

”In addition to supporting learning for these children,” says camp director and HPRP co-director Lisa Jenschke, “the HPRP camp builds bonds across the community, as friendships are made from counselor to camper, from camper to camper, and among families. These bonds make our community stronger.”

by Judy Mintel

Featured image: Olivia Issa, Camp Coordinator – Summer of 2019

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