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A Summer of Service with the GulfSouth Summer Youth Action Camp

by Makayla Counselman

This April, the Central Park Recreation Center in Atlanta was uninhabited and in disarray. Light fixtures were hanging from the ceiling, the Center had a stale smell, and brown water trickled from the faucets. Now, thanks to a partnership between Operation REACH's Gulfsouth Youth Action Corps and the City of Atlanta, the Center has reopened its doors to the community. Gulfsouth Youth Action Corps (GYAC) AmeriCorps Members began their summer of service preparing for the six week intensive youth leadership and service learning summer camp they staff.

The Gulfsouth Summer Youth Action Camp (GSYAC) engages rising 6th through 9th graders in a variety of service-learning activities that addressed real community needs in the area of disaster preparedness and the environment. Over the summer, the camp engaged more than 300 youth in meaningful service learning activities in Atlanta, Birmingham and New Orleans, including community beautification, gardening, and painting. “The long term goal is that after the program, youth will continue to be involved in their communities.” said New Orleans Corps Member, Stephen Stone.

The program was originally launched in the summer of 2006 to help reopen recreation centers and restore youth programs in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. These camps provided outlets for youth to discuss their experiences with Hurricane Katrina and have their voices be heard in the rebuilding of their communities. With the support of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Gulfsouth Youth Action Corps and Summer Youth Action Camps have since expanded across the South.

Atlanta's 2010 summer camp was held at the previously closed Central Park Recreation Center. The Center had been closed for 18 months prior to the start of the summer camp in June because of budget cuts. "A lot of work was involved in the re-opening of the Recreation Center and developing the camp this summer," said Atlanta Corps Member, Cherona Levy. "But, all the hard work paid off after seeing the completed service projects the students accomplished."

Among the service projects completed by the campers was a mural covering the exterior wall of the Central Park Recreation Center. "We are extremely thrilled that the GYAC members were able to provide a quality experience to the youth in the Old Fourth Ward." said Director of the Atlanta Office of Recreation, Charlene Braud. "Their dedication and commitment to service in this community has made a tremendous difference. Operation Reach, Inc. and the GYAC members are partners who care and made a lasting impression and a big difference in a little time. The partnership was a wonderful way to reopen the recreation center in this community."

The 2010 Gulfsouth Summer Youth Action Camp was made possible through funding from Learn and Serve America’s Summer of Service and AmeriCorps. Operation REACH, Inc. (ORI) is a national organization that engages, empowers, and inspires children, youth and families through innovative community-based learning opportunities. ORI is also one of the only Louisiana-born AmeriCorps organizations to receive funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service for national expansion.

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