Fisher Students, Faculty, Staff, and Alumni Volunteer at Jamaican Sports Camp for Disadvantaged Youth
Earlier this summer, when many St. John Fisher College students and faculty were starting to enjoy their vacation, 28 members of the Fisher community traveled to Jamaica for 10 days to volunteer at the Jamaica Advantage Thru Sports Youth (JASY) Day Camp. This is the second trip to the camp that Fisher has organized.
Every year, campers between the ages of 8-16 come together for two week-long summer camps focused on using sports training as a vehicle to improve self-esteem, physical well-being, teamwork, Christian values, and cross-cultural learning. The attendees are economically disadvantaged youth from Kingston, Jamaica, and the 2012 camp brought 120 campers together with the Fisher volunteers.
Camp is hosted at the University of West Indies, and campers are chosen based on their grades by their teachers. According to Sally Vaughan, Director of Community Service at Fisher, the students are from some of the poorest neighborhoods in Kingston.
Campers took swimming lessons, went through a variety of soccer drills and scrimmages, and played Caribbean indoor games including kickball and relay races. In addition, they created their own Olympic Village through arts and crafts sessions, complete with an opening and closing ceremony.
Jamaican Olympic silver medalist Grace Jackson, who competed on the Jamaican track and field team during the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games, addressed the campers during the opening and closing ceremonies encouraging them to keep their dreams alive and never give up.
“Sports is the theme at camp, but teamwork, cooperation, respect, responsibility, and good morals are also taught by the volunteers,” added Vaughan.
Through fundraising events on campus, the Fisher volunteers raised money to pay their own way. They raised an additional $15,000 for JASY campers, which covered backpacks, swimsuits, towels, socks, shin guards, team t-shirts, closing ceremony certificates, and medals for each camper. The snack and lunch were also covered each day. The total operational cost of the camp is $30,000.
“This experience made a huge impact on our volunteers,” said Vaughan. “The culture and living conditions are so different. But music, sports, hopes, and dreams connected us. This was the most giving team of Fisher volunteers, they never complained and were always eager to do what they could.”
It was the first service trip for graduate student Nicole Dragonetti, but she has always been involved with service projects.
“Going abroad for service is something I have wanted to do and hoped to accomplish at some point in the future. I had a class with someone who went on the trip in 2010 who told me about the experience. Once I inquired about it further, and saw pictures and videos from the trip, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” she said.
Dragonetti said the experience changed her life in so many ways, giving her a first-hand view of the reality that exists outside of Rochester.
“The circumstances the children live in are heartbreaking. It made me appreciate so many little things that I had taken for granted. And despite those circumstances, the children and volunteers I worked with were some of the happiest and most loving people I have ever met, and made me want to be a better person,” she added.
Senior Sarah Hryzak, went on the trip for the first time, and served as a swim coach at the camp.
“The idea of seeing and experiencing a different culture and lifestyle was very intriguing to me, but more importantly, the fact that I could have an impact on the children’s lives was something I knew I couldn’t pass up,” she said.
Hryzak would start each day greeting the campers off the buses, and then taught four different lessons, one for each of the four teams of campers. She was also a mentor for the campers, often having in-depth conversations with them over lunch about what they hoped to accomplish later in the future.
“It’s an understatement to say that those children changed my life. Sitting down for an hour at lunch and hearing about their daily life was astounding to me,” she said. “Seeing those children get off the bus each day with huge smiles, excited to do whatever task we were going to give them was so refreshing. Their excitement filled me with energy and gave me the strength to work as hard as I could each day.”
Tony Kapp, ’10, also traveled to the camp with Fisher in 2010. While he was a student at Fisher, he went to New Orleans twice to help rebuild after the hurricane, and served on the executive board of Students With A Vision (SWAV), leading Project Community Convergence (PCC) for three years.
“The way the children affected me in just a week really pushed me each day and played a huge part in what drove me to go again,” he said. “The campers taught me how to get the most out of the smallest things. They take advantage of everything in front of them.”