Over the past 30 years, Camp Swift has grown from a summer camp experience for children from economically disadvantaged homes – staffed primarily by Jewish teens – to a year-round mentoring program that pairs inner-city youth with college-bound high school students.
The Camp Swift Youth Foundation plans to share these developments during an info session and carnival this weekend.
In addition to the overnight camp – which brings about 150 children, ages 9-11, and 60 counselors to Camp Daisy & Harry Stein in Prescott for each session (there are two sessions this summer, sometimes there are three) – the nonprofit also has a weekly after-school program at Echo Mountain Primary School run by high school volunteers who had previously been Camp Swift counselors and members of Club Swift, former campers now in high school.
“This organization empowers young people to make a difference in their lives and in their community,” said Tami Taylor, the youth development coordinator at Echo Mountain Primary and Intermediate Schools who has worked with Camp Swift for the past three years. “This is such an important value for young people to learn. Camp Swift counselors help students develop leadership skills and encourage them to dream big and look forward to their future.”
Many Camp Swift counselors continue volunteering with the organization after high school, and some, such as Kaylie Marsh, turn it into a profession – she started as the nonprofit’s executive director in January. Michael Evans, who recently started as the camp’s assistant director, has volunteered with Camp Swift for more than a decade and in addition to being a founding member of the organization’s programming board, he has been a unit head and a support staff director.
Taylor said that when her students return from the five-day Camp Swift program in Prescott, they are profoundly changed. “The opportunity and experiences they share at camp stay with them forever and most return to the camp in a few years as counselors. I cannot say enough great things about this organization, their philosophy and their impact on young people in the Phoenix area.”
David Lopez was once a camper at Camp Swift and then in high school was part of Club Swift, a high school leadership development program started in 2010 for former Camp Swift campers. He served as Club Swift president during his senior year and is currently in his first year at Paradise Valley Community College studying bio-engineering.
“Camp Swift was a wonderful experience as a kid and definitely as a counselor,” he wrote in an email. “Once I was a counselor, I was finally able to repay all the amazing memories by giving each individual camper the Camp Swift experience.”
Judith Giller-Leinwohl volunteered as a counselor for two years when she was a member of Kol Ami Temple Youth (KATY) in high school and as a unit head for the past two summers. “I am in college in Boston, but make it a point to return to Arizona for Camp Swift every summer,” she wrote in an email.
“The dichotomy of seeing kids come off of the bus from Phoenix filled with nerves compared with the excited, inspired campers that board the bus at the end of the session shows what the Camp Swift experience can do in just a few days,” she said.
“Campers gain role models in their high school counselors, and learn, many for the first time, about college and how to make positive goals. Leadership skills I learned at Swift have helped me throughout college, and will undoubtedly follow me throughout my first job and beyond.”
Camp Swift is funded primarily by individual donations, although it has received grants through the Nina Pulliam Summer Youth Program Fund and the B’nai Tzedek Youth Philanthropy Fund.
During the school year, Marsh also visits middle schools monthly to visit former campers and to keep them interested in joining Club Swift once they reach high school. “We’re trying to bridge the gap,” she said.
Last year, Camp Swift introduced a 24-hour mini-camp experience for campers and counselors who have already attended the summer camp, Marsh said. This spring, about 50 children attended the overnight program at the Foothills Community Center.
Camp Swift also has a monthly Saturday program that includes physical activity, educational programming and ways to foster positive mentor relationships between the children and the counselors.
“Everything we do is trying to bring camp and fun to the kids,” Marsh said, “and there’s always food.”
What: Carnival and Info Session
Who: Camp Swift
When: 10:30 a.m.-11:45 a.m. info session, noon-2:30 p.m. carnival, Saturday, April 18
Where: Foothills Community Center, 17835 N. 44th St., Phoenix