People & Places

Summer camp in Iowa City held with immigrant children in mind

I.C. effort supports, empowers kids and their parents

Liz Martin photos/The Gazette

Mohaned Abdou, 9, laughs during a song at the weekly summer camp put on by Allies, a grou
Liz Martin photos/The Gazette Mohaned Abdou, 9, laughs during a song at the weekly summer camp put on by Allies, a group that supports the Center for Worker Justice, on July 12 at the center in Iowa City. This is the first year for the camp, which is intended to provide immigrant children with coping skills and support for them and their families.
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IOWA CITY — In Iowa City earlier this month, a room was a riot of noise as 25 immigrant children enjoyed a summer camp designed to offer fun and also support for them and their families.

Organizers say the new camp was partially in response to the stress felt in immigrant communities following President Donald Trump’s election and his executive orders, including ones cutting off refugees and visitors from six Muslim-majority countries. The anxiety is felt by children, too, according to a survey of 10,000 school officials by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Iowa City resident Sally Hartman said she’s seen that impact.

“Because I worked in the schools, I know a lot about immigrant children, and I know the school can be a safety net for them,” said Hartman, who retired from her position as psychologist for rural Johnson County schools in May. “They have counselors, they have teachers, they have other kids. They have that sense of support. In the summer, they don’t have that necessarily.”

So Hartman banded with other Allies of the Center for Worker Justice to form a summer camp for Iowa City-based immigrant children.

“Because of all these stressors, we’re supplying support for them,” Hartman said.

Thirty-one children, mostly Latino and Sudanese between the ages of 5 and 12, come to the center on Gilbert Court each Wednesday for a camp run by a dozen volunteers from the community and from Allies, individuals who support the center but are not members themselves.

The eight-week camp, which began on June 14, will run until Aug. 2.

“There are many people who have no choice (but) to send their kid to child care, or they charge a lot,” said Graciella Ordaz, whose 9-year-old daughter, Caty, attends the camp. “(At the Center), they try to help us and help (keep) the kids busy during the summer at least once a week.”

Each week, volunteers offer lessons in music, science and art.

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Hartman said the main focus, though, comes in morning sessions where children learn coping skills from graduate students and a retired professor from the University of Iowa’s school psychology program.

Sara Wise, a third-year graduate student in the school psychology program, said the lessons touch on conflict resolution, emotional recognition and positive self-talk, among other things.

“While all kids could benefit from this, I think some kids are facing certain stressors that make this beneficial to them in particular,” Wise said.

Wise said the lessons touch on topics the children might be facing outside the camp.

“We talked about discrimination and what that looks like, and one kid right away said ‘racism,’ ” Wise said. “He’s Hispanic, and he described it as (a moment) when someone says ‘to go back to your country.’ They clearly had an understanding that.”

Hartman said she plans to hold the camp again next summer.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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