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Summer Fun and Learning at Sarah Heinz House

August 3, 2017

By Meg Campbell 

For some kid-centric organizations, summertime means a well-earned break. But at the Sarah Heinz House on Pittsburgh’s North Side, summertime offers a chance to amplify their mission “to empower all kids, especially those who need [them] most, to Laugh, Learn, and Lead” through eight weeks of summer day camp.

Each day during camp, around 200 kids and teens—ranging from preschool to high school—come through their doors to participate in one of five camps: Preschool, 1st through 4th grade, 5th through 8th grade, Robotics Camp and Leadership Camp.

“We have a full, packed schedule for every camper that walks through the door,” said Sarah Carlisle, Whole Camp Activities Director.

Carlisle, who is an elementary school counselor during the school year, has been spending her summers at SHH for four years, starting as the Lead Day Camp Counselor for first through fourth grades.

“I absolutely love being here. It’s always something new, something different. It keeps me on my toes.”

She explained that the campers have varied experiences throughout their two week sessions. Days start with morning opening, where all of the campers meet with the counselors prior to starting the day. Each day is different, and includes rotations through activities like swimming, open gym, outdoor activities, robotics, art and games.

There are two lunches and two recesses, and afternoons include choice, where campers decide where they would like to spend time, or whole camp, which Carlisle directs.

“That’s when all the camps come together. This is when I design activities for all of the groups and robotics to come together,” Carlise shared.

“Today we are doing a…scavenger hunt throughout the whole building. If they finish the whole scavenger hunt and I check it off that they’ve gotten everything done, they get a special prize at the end of the day.”

Each of the four two-week session also includes a two field trips.

“My favorite part of camp is probably our field trips. Every other Thursday, we will walk to the Troy Hill spray park, which is a really nice symbiosis for us that it’s in our backyard,” said day camp director Kyle Glasser. “Then we get to go to the zoo, the Carnegie science center, or up to our resident camp facility.”

Around fifty summer staffers are hired as counselors and directors of camp. They also get a hand from high school students in the leadership camp.

“We also have our CITs, Counselors-in-Training, and their role looks a little bit different,” explained Carlisle. “They still are campers but they take on some leadership roles. We’d love for them once they graduate to become camp counselors.”

For Deon Butler, who is a full-time program director year round with Sarah Heinz House and the director of 5th through 8th grade day camp, watching the kids enjoy themselves in new ways is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.

“It’s amazing. It’s beautiful to see the kids come in every day, smiling.”

These smiles are possible, in large part, due to corporate support from Sarah Heinz House partners like Comcast.

“Sarah Heinz House has benefitted from a great partnership with Comcast over several years. Comcast provides vital resources to improve our facility and enrich our programs to children—especially around internet safety,” said Sarah Heinz House executive director Jennifer Cairns.

“Each year Sarah Heinz House relies upon generous gifts of funding and employee engagement from socially responsible companies. Comcast is a great corporate citizen.”

For Bob Grove, Comcast Vice President of Public Relations, partnering with SHH is a natural fit for Comcast.

“The Comcast Foundation invests in programs and nonprofits that strengthen our communities through expanding digital literacy, building tomorrow’s leaders and promoting community service and volunteerism. The Sarah Heinz House shares each of those goals and has created robust after-school programs that not only educate but are part of a culture that broadly prepares students of all ages to become engaged leaders who can positively impact their communities in the future.”

Grove also sits on the SHH board of directors.

“It’s an honor for me to serve on the board of an organization with such a long and successful history of dedication to youth development in Pittsburgh. The caring, inclusive and challenging environment created not only by the Sarah Heinz House leadership and staff but also by its volunteers is impressive, as together they are empowering Pittsburgh students for future success. And I can’t say enough about the students there and the way they embrace these opportunities and support each other, learning and growing together in a way that makes Sarah Heinz House truly an important part of their lives.”

Visit the Sarah Heinz House website to learn more about their summer and school-year programming.

Author’s note: Fellow grown ups, I did ask, but at this time, Sarah Heinz House has no plans to expand this incredible programming into the adult market – but they’re always looking for volunteers, and I have it on good authority that that’s just as much fun!