When Project Transformation opened their doors in 1998, they provided a free summer day camp program to an impressive 250 under-served children. Today, they are serving more than three times that number, over 800, and they’re doing it right under your nose.
With offices, and one of ten camp locations, in Oak Cliff United Methodist Church on Jefferson Boulevard, the faith-based group is dedicated to creating tranformative connections in our community. By training local volunteers as well as college-aged interns from all over the country, Project Transformation offers an 8-week summer camp to nearly 1000 children at ten locations in the city. Their mission is comprehensive: they want to help under-served children and youth, but they also aim to help those who are doing the serving.
“Our volunteers and interns need opportunities to serve,” says Volunteer Coordinator Janalee Shadburn. “We not only give the children experiences they might not otherwise receive, but we also give young people ministry experience. And, we bring 1200 community members through our program every year to read to our kids. We’re very proud of that.”
Those impressive numbers underscore the extraordinary work Project Transformation does in Oak Cliff. This year, as they proudly celebrate their ten year anniversary, they are currently in the middle of their regular day camp schedule. Children arrive to the program around 9 a.m. and stay until 3 p.m., spending their day reading, doing crafts, playing outside and learning from their college-aged counselors.
Executive Director Eric Lindh says, “Everything about this program revolves around the young adult interns. Our goals are to engage them in a meaningful, hands-on experience serving children and families from low-income neighborhoods; we also want them to live in community and explore ministry opportunities.” To that end, Project Transformation provides professional and spiritual training for the interns, who then live together at SMU while planning and implementing the summer camp programming.
This year, 22 states are represented among the 102 college interns, with Project Tranformation recruiting at various colleges all year long. Shadburn explains, “Most of our interns come to us through word of mouth.” In addition to the interns, each camp site requires 10 to 15 community volunteers in order to allow children one-on-one reading time.
Lindh believes that the children in the program benefit greatly from their interaction with loving, trained young people. “Our goals for our children’s and youth programs are to help develop their mind, body and spirit,” he says, “It is through the relationships with our interns that this impact is made.”
And the learning does not end in August. At the urging of some former interns, Project Transformation also offers year-long after-school tutoring. “When the summer is over, we continue throughout the year with a high-quality after-school program, hosted in four urban churches and one community center,” Lindh explains. By using young adults who commit to serving all year long, the children’s experiences in the summer program can be nurtured throughout the year.
Project Transformation is committed to growing with its kids as well as with the initiative of its interns. Not only was the after-school program implemented, but the organization also looks to provide for the kids as they age. Lindh explains, “As the children in our program grew up, we added a program specifically for middle-school youth.” And high school-aged students who have come through the program can now apply to work as assistants to the interns.
“Our hope,” says Lindh, “is that one day, the life cycle of this program would be complete when some of our former participants enter college and return as interns during the summer to serve the communities where they grew up.”
The group’s success has not gone unnoticed either; similar organizations have replicated Project Tranformation in Oklahoma, Virginia and Kansas.
Project Transformation was originally formed with the intent to revitalize both the local community and the urban United Methodist church system. By offering young adults ministry opportunities and by connecting local churches with people in the area, the group determined that it could make the most impact.
Lindh expresses that, “The hope was (and still is) that this experience would inspire our young people to become leaders in their churches and communities. At the same time, these interns are investing in the lives of the children they are serving, encouraging them to achieve their full potential.”
AmeriCorps provides significant financial support to Project Transformation, allowing them to offer their summer interns a stipend for their efforts. But the group also benefits from both individual and corporate donors, and they are currently looking to broaden their sources of giving. They also benefit from the North Texas Food Bank, which generously provides meals for both the children and the interns throughout the two months of summer camp.
Looking for a way to get involved? Besides financial donations which can be given online, Lindh says, “We need volunteers to read with children one on one, provide dinner to our interns, and donate arts and crafts supplies or recreation equipment.”
Also, he says, “We have hundreds of people volunteer to read with children during the summer, but not as many know about our after-school programming. We need more volunteers to enable us to provide more individualized instruction to our students.”
For more information about Project Transformation, and how you can help, visit www.projecttransformation.org, or email Janalee Shadburn, [email protected]