When you visit Camp Mathieu, you will be met by summer eats, summer smiles and summer sounds. There are children running around carefree. At the camp, there are host of activities including swimming, board games, ball games and swings.
Jeremiah Palmore when asked said; “I really like to go swimming with all the other kids, hang out in the rec hall with all the other kids. It’s just fun… just to be with other people and not have to worry about how dangerous it is.” Raised in the West Side, he says that the area is dangerous with shootings in the streets and he feels safe at the Summer Camp.
Located in Wheaton, Camp Mathieu is only an hour’s drive from Chicago city and it is an out-of-town retreat place for young children and teenagers. Ralph Campagna is the director of Camp Mathieu and he says the idea behind the camp what to protect children who come from violent neighborhoods and to show them another side of life.
Children who are in Chicago streets are normally removed there by volunteers and taken to Camp Mathieu. In addition, we have parents who voluntarily bring their children to Camp Mathieu during the summer. At the camp, they are taught different life skills that can benefit them in future. The environment at the camp to many of the children is quite different from what they are used to.
Campagna grew up in Chicago’s West Side and he spent many summers at Camp Mathieu. He had a rough childhood and as he grew up, he decided to make a difference and take another route with his life. He has assisted hundreds of West Side children who grew up in poor backgrounds and has seen a difference in their lives. During his childhood, Mathieu spent many summers in Camp Mathieu a fact he acknowledges that it changed his life.
He has turn this into his life’s work and he welcomes other kids to the camp during summers to spent their time there while learning and growing. Off The Street Club is the parent organization of Camp Mathieu and they work hand in hand to assists the children.
Arnett Morris who is the club associate director when being interview said: “I don’t know where I would be without Off The Street Club. It literally has saved my life as it has done for so many hundreds of kids over the years.”
Morris is a direct product of Camp Mathieu. When younger he was a camper and a member but today, he works for the organization full-time. Each week, about 50 children stay in the camp. The camp provides everything from food to accommodation and the children sleep in dormitories on camp beds.
The program is part of ‘Save Our Summer” also referred to as SOS. For only $500, a child can stay in the camp for a week and also day cam is provided for the rest of the summer in Chicago. *Aside from making the children busy, the camp creates families and the children grow up as brothers and sisters.