Ohio summer camp allows middle schoolers to solve community problems

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Posted at 9:11 PM, Aug 02, 2021

AKRON, Ohio — Children are rarely asked their opinions and it's even rarer that they’re given a seat at the table to help solve a problem. However, a group of kids in Ohio is being challenged to do just that this summer.

WEWS visited Camp What If, which is specifically designed for middle schoolers, challenging them to be changemakers.

At the camp, a couple of hundred Akron students are getting a crash course on how the world revolves around them. WEWS tagged along with kids from the camp as they visited Akron community leaders, artists and reporters, entrepreneurs, and civic leaders.

“They get to ask sort of blunt questions with adults, and a lot of times, middle schoolers feel it’s pretty rare for an adult to listen to them,” said Joel Daniel Harris.

Camp What If is a week-long summer program that challenges kids in 6th to 8th grades to think about ways to improve their communities.

“It’s like they love to collaborate with little kids so they can get little kids' mindsets,” said Camp What If student Ava Davis.

Campers are challenged to figure out solutions to the problems their young eyes see in the world around them.

“I’d like to see people like picking up trash, like not letting the earth be littery [sic],” said Ava.

Camper Annaline Farfan wants to see violence and racism addressed, while Dacia Jackson wants to focus on the shootings and killings in her city.

“What we’ve really noticed from working with middle schoolers is they have incredible empathy. They've got a ton of passion and energy and excitement. They've got creativity like crazy,” said Joel Daniel Harris.

Harris is Executive Director of TomTod ideas, which is the nonprofit behind Camp What If, which focuses on bringing out the critical thinking skills of middle schoolers.

“There are not enough opportunities where we sit down and ask kids what matters to them and what they think we should do about it. To me, there’s a magic that happens here,” said Megan Kleidon, one of the camp’s mentors and CEO of Red Oak Health.

Kids brainstorm with one another and are then tasked with creating real solutions for community issues. Some of those solutions have actually been implemented over the years.

“I feel more like safe, and like I can talk more here. Like all my ideas are also being considered. It feels like I'm powerful, like I can do stuff," said camper Jay Cooke.

“It’s really amazing to talk to other people and get everybody’s ideas,” said camper Dacia Jackson.

"We hope that middle schoolers walk away from Camp What If with a passion for their community, having seen it in a new light," Harris said.

“When we’ve got kids like these driving the bus, we’re going to do great things. We don’t have to worry. The next generation is going to make a real difference,” said Kleidon.

Camp What If is offered in Akron, Canton, and North Canton and is free, thanks to sponsorships in those cities.

To find out more about Camp What If, click here.

Courtney Gousman at WEWS first reported this story.