About 50 African-American boys ages 10-15 learned what it takes to be a leader and work as a team when Hemlock Overlook Regional Park hosted the 15th annual Camp Kappa from June 26 to July 1.
The camp run by members of the Alexandria Alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi is geared towards underprivileged, at-risk boys from metropolitan Washington, D.C. During the week, campers took turns on the Zip Wire and canoed down the Occoquan to learn team-building exercises as well as lessons in social skills and cooperation. They awoke at dawn and went hiking, fishing and swimming — to name a few.
"A LOT OF KIDS come here with little to no self-esteem. We try to treat them as individuals, and by the end of the day they leave self-assured, outgoing and extroverted," said George Chavis, a volunteer and member of Kappa Alpha Psi. "It's like a complete attitude change."
He said many of the youth are from single-parent homes or foster families and that they are from both the inner city and suburban areas as well.
"Lots of times these people think these suburban kids don’t need help but they do," said Anthony Richards, Camp Kappa chairman. "We never have a chance to show people what we do out here, we're kind of doing it in the dark."
The campers are assigned roles in a criminal mock trial at the Fairfax County Courthouse where they learn debate skills and leadership. Afterwards, they visit the Fairfax County Jail. They also took a trip to the FBI Academy in Quantico and listened to a presentation by members of the Tuskegee Airmen — an all-black flying squadron during World War II.
Col. Walter McCreary, 87, said achieving your goals takes self-discipline and hard work.
"It will be difficult, especially when people judge you by the color of your skin. But your teachers, instructors and mentors are going to help you achieve what you want to be," said McCreary.
Centreville resident Sybil Dunegan-Mack — who will become an assistant principal at Franklin Middle School — first became involved with Kappa Alpha Psi after meeting them through her sorority, Zeta Phi Beta.
For Dunegan-Mack, the camp is about mentoring and brotherhood, and after her son P.J. went to the camp, he couldn't stop talking about it.
"I know that they did a good job ... I don't know a lot of people who would give up a week of their summer to host an all-expense paid camp," said Dunegan-Mack.
THE CAMPERS have made an impression on the camp staff as well.
Clifton resident Rebecca Boone, one of the community program managers at Camp Hemlock — staffed by George Mason University faculty and run under the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority — appreciates the rare opportunity that Kappa Alpha Psi gives the young men.
"These kids just don't get a chance to participate in such a wonderful experience. It's educational and it's fun. They are going to be learning things here that they couldn't elsewhere," said Boone.
Reston resident Anthony Devine, 14, is attending his third year at camp Kappa, and credits the fraternity members with improving his people skills and his chances for the future.
"You wouldn't take any other person's mistake as an excuse to get angry and start something," said Devine. They're guiding us on the right path for the future. You'd be amazed at how many kids there are from the area," said Devine.
Richards said the $450 needed for the camp comes through donations from local businesses and fraternity members.
"I work harder doing this than my job. It takes volunteers and donations from the fraternity and the remainder comes from sponsorships by corporations like Freddie Mac Foundation, Booz Allen and Cox Communications. If it wasn't for corporations like that we wouldn't be able to do this," said Richards. For more information on Camp Kappa and the Guide-Right program, visit www.afkapsi.org.