Today: Mar 01, 2024

Exercise science department chair changes Hartford children’s lives with Dream Camp

Photo courtesy southernct.edu
Dan Swartz with Dream Camp counselors. (Left to right) Gabriel Arciniegas, Brittney, Vanessa Miller.
MELISSA CHICKERNews Writer

Making a difference in children’s lives is what Dan Swartz, associate professor of exercise science and chairman of the department, loves to do with Dream Camp. Swartz took over the summer day camp as site director in 2006.

Dream Camp is a five week camp which runs differently than most; it’s meant to enrich the minds of schoolchildren based at Trinity College in Hartford.

“I believed in what it was all about and continue and move forward to help the kids of Hartford,” said Swartz.

The camp is made up of 275 students; the camp is so popular there is usually a waiting list of 100 to 150 children each summer.

Dream Camp serves children ages 6 to 16, (with 6- to 9-year-olds in a day camp setting), where they do a variety of activities that include arts and crafts, music, and science-based classes, along with more unique ones like World Tour, where each week the students learn about a new country and participate in activities about the country.

The older campers (ranging from 10- to 16-year-olds) participate in a sports camp setting, but they also participate in camp activities like True Life Adventure, a program that changes weekly, with activities like Zumba dance. They also participate in classes based on healthy eating and how to resolve conflict issues.  He admits it can be a difficult job and the children can be challenging at times, but it is worth it in the end.

The camp is free to the kids’ families; an anonymous donor donates a vast majority of the funding, but federal funding helps with meals and other aspects of the program.

According to Swartz, every student who has attended the program has gone off to participate in college, and they have a 99 percent success rate of campers coming back each year. He credits the success rate of his campers because of the excellent 85 person staff. Seventy to 75 percent of his staff also returns each year.

“We get people who truly believe in what we are doing and believe in the kids. This gets people coming back each year and makes a huge difference in the kids’ lives,” said Swartz.

Vanessa Miller, a senior business major, started as a camper at age 12 and has been working as a counselor for the last six years. As a former camper herself she was able to make her students feel the same way.

“I knew both sides of the fence; I knew where my campers were coming from. When they got frustrated about things I would sympathize and remind them that I had to do the same thing when I was a camper,” she said.

When student campers reach the age of 16 they can apply to become a Mentor in Training. If chosen they mentor younger campers. When they reach the age of 17 they can apply for the Young Leader Program, where they learn and train to become full-time counselors when they turn 18. Swartz said the process if very selective, but about a quarter of Dream Campers go on to become counselors.

Gabriel Arciniegas, a sophomore mathematics with secondary education major, has also worked at Dream Camp for the last three years. He wants to be a positive role model to young campers like he once was and hopes to keep Swartz’s dream alive.

“It feels like family,” he said. “Dan really knows how to run the camp and he inspires me to be a better leader so that I can one day have the potential and the opportunity to run the camp myself.”

Swartz said a highlight of his professional career as director was at a Southern open house when he saw three of his campers looking at Southern as a possible college choice.

“It was one of the best moments and when I see them around campus it just feels awesome,” he said.

In addition to the summer camp sessions, Dream Camp also offers a year-round after school mentoring program, which summer staff members also run at Trinity College as a way of keeping in touch with students year round.

“When I was a camper they kept in contact with me. In high school they were supportive with my choices and when I was in college would ask how I was doing. The fact that as a camper you find long life friends here, over all it is a great place,” said Miller.

Swartz credits the staff members for making it so successful and for changing the lives of the campers. He said he cannot imagine not doing Dream Camp but knows one day he will have to step down. He hopes that one of his campers will take on the leadership role he enjoys so much.

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