For the children and teens in Twin Falls, Idaho, taking part in youth summer camps at the College of Southern Idaho (CSI) can be a life-changing experience — literally.
As part of its community education programming, CSI offers dance and theater camps for children as young as six, as well as music, robotics, writing, science, art and cooking camps.
This article is an excerpt from the August/September issue of AACC’s Community College Journal.
“I have parents come in and ask, ‘Can you help us find an avenue for our child? We need something to bolster their self-confidence,’” says Camille Barigar, director of CSI’s Community Enrichment Office.
Many of these children are struggling with depression, often because they’re being bullied at school or don’t fit in. Barigar matches them with an appropriate activity and introduces them to the summer camp faculty, making sure they feel welcome and supported.
“By the end of the week, I’ve had many parents say, ‘Thank you so much, this means everything to my child.’ In some instances, parents have told me their child was suicidal — and the summer camp experience saved their life,” she avows. “That can be the power of these programs.”
Enrichment programs make up a small but significant part of a community college’s offerings. In some cases, their impact can be enormous — especially in rural areas where a community college might be the only source of enrichment for residents.
Community enrichment programs also can be challenging to administer. For instance, it can be hard to find and recruit skilled instructors, maintain high standards of quality, make people aware of enrichment programming, and even justify its value when budgets are tight.
When done well, however, these programs bring many benefits to communities — as well as the colleges themselves.
“They raise our profile in the community,” Barigar says.
Aside from an extensive array of summer camps for youth, CSI offers as many as 40 personal enrichment classes for adults each semester, and the college hosts up to 10 shows per year through its “Arts on Tour” performing arts series.
Arts and crafts classes such as watercolor painting and pottery are always major attractions at CSI.
“They tend to be our biggest money makers,” Barigar says.
She has noticed that nature-based classes such as botany and birdwatching have exploded in popularity since the pandemic began, as people are looking for outdoor activities that are safe from Covid. Homespun, back-to-your-roots classes on topics such as gardening, canning and cake decorating also generate a lot of interest.
Arts and crafts enrichment courses bring many people to SUNY Adirondack, a community college in upstate New York, as well.
“People are always looking for classes that fill a creative need,” says Caelynn Prylo, dean of continuing education and workforce innovation. Fitness and wellness classes tend to fill up quickly, too.
Given the fascination with cooking shows that has spawned a host of programs across multiple TV networks, it’s not surprising that cooking classes should also draw interest. One enrichment class that has proven to be particularly popular at SUNY Adirondack is a combination cooking class/book club. Taught by a faculty member from the college’s culinary arts program, the course has participants read books in which food plays a prominent role, then get together to discuss each book while preparing one of the featured meals.
Like CSI, SUNY Adirondack offers a summer enrichment program for youth, which typically reaches more than 100 children each year. “We run programs for people ages eight to 98,” Prylo says. “We see this as an important part of our mission to serve the community.”