Kids in Lee County found themselves immersed in the Harlem Renaissance Era during the past month. The four-week summer camp was the collaboration of the Auntie Karen Foundation, the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and the Lee County school system. About 400 kids participated and were able to take classes including sewing, cooking, guitar, African drums, Spanish and drama. This year’s theme was the Harlem Renaissance. It refers to the cultural, social and artistic explosion in Harlem, New York during the 1920s.
The Auntie Karen Foundation is a global non-profit founded 16 years ago by Karen Alexander. Her vision was to use the arts to empower kids in rural areas across South Carolina. About four years ago, Alexander approached SCDJJ for her foundation to become a certified Teen After-School Center (TASC). It’s a partnership that’s flourished since then, changing lives throughout the Palmetto State.
DJJ’s Teen After-School Centers are daily after-school programs based in local churches, community centers, and other public buildings across the state, and are staffed by employees and volunteers with a heart for youth. The goal – provide a structured, positive place to build academic and employability skills, and empower kids and teenagers for the future.
“We get to bring a group of talented, seasoned artists to rural communities to share their gifts,” Alexander explains. “You can see the results. My hope is that kids will continue to pursue their talents and have them nurtured. Because we’re a Teen After-School Center, we’re able to expand our reach.”
11-year-old Jayden studied Drama and Drums at this year’s camp.
“My favorite moment was meeting new friends and being able to have a part in Drama,” Jayden says. “If I didn’t come here, I’d probably be at home doing nothing.”
Jayden says he learned a valuable lesson in his drum class to apply to his life.
“I’m not very good at drums, but like they say, practice makes perfect. When I practice, I’ll get better at it over the years,” he shared.
It’s kids like Jayden that make the Auntie Karen Foundation and DJJ’s TASC sites a winning partnership. With the Summer months often come a regression in kids’ academic engagement and higher risk for delinquent behavior due to the increase in “free time.” Thanks to the camp in Lee County and many more like it across South Carolina, hundreds of kids are learning new skills and being empowered to build a brighter future for themselves.
Last year, 38 TASC sites served nearly 4,300 students across South Carolina. This year, DJJ has expanded to 43 sites to serve even more of our state’s youth.