While many students will return to school this fall with stories of spending their summer playing video games, sleeping in all day or working, more than 105 kids from across Indianapolis will have a completely different story to tell.
“If I didn’t attend the St. Florian Center this summer I’d be like a lot of my other friends who are bored, still trying to find jobs and doing things that they shouldn’t be doing,” said Jasmine James, 15. “But this summer I’ve been able to get out of my comfort zone and was given numerous opportunities that I wouldn’t have been exposed to elsewhere.”
Created in 1992 by firefighters Isaac Randolph and Tony Williamson, the St. Florian Center Summer Leadership Development Camp (SFC) was developed to provide area youth with an alternative outlet that could positively influence their behavior into adulthood.
“As firefighters we saw kids in their worst conditions due to the increased amount of violence in our neighborhoods and people were beginning to write off this current generation as not capable because of that increase,” said Executive Director Williamson. “I refuse to believe that. If our youth are given structure and provided with various positive opportunities, then they are more than capable to succeed.”
Using that philosophy as the basis of the camp, Randolph and Williamson collaborated on ideas and concepts to create a summer program that has impacted hundreds of different children over its 16-year span.
Everyday after reciting the camp’s motto, philosophy, creed and 10 leadership principles, SFC kids separate into their individual groups which include the junior cadet program for ages 6 to 9, the core cadet program for ages 10 to 13 and the cash club program for ages 14 to 17. In their programs, the cadets engage in various age appropriate activities that are centered around the designated module of that week which includes such topics as philanthropy, health and safety, business, and leadership development.
SFC also encourages cadets to be tobacco free through its partnership with the VOICE movement.
“Unlike other programs we don’t just lecture our kids about what it takes to become a leader,” Williamson said. “Instead, we provide them with an opportunity to apply what we teach through obtaining leadership positions and then ultimately having the chance to take over the complete operation of the camp.”
With over 22 different leadership roles available including mayor and deputy mayor, cadets are given the opportunity to work together to obtain complete camp control. In order to accomplish this goal, cadets must know the camp’s motto, philosophy, creed and 10 leadership principles, earn a score of five for three consecutive days on the conduct clock which is determined by overall group behavior and have everyone pass the leadership quiz.
“We try to reiterate the positive skills that parents are already teaching their kids at home,” said Assistant Director Earl Thompson, a firefighter who has been with the program for 12 years. “The parents are one of the main componets that have helped make our program so successful for this long. They believe in the structure and purpose of the camp which a lot of kids don’t appreciate until they have long completed the program.”
However, some might be understanding the importance of the camp now. Core cadet Jarrod Hutchings, 10, believes that the SFC has helped change him for the better.
“I’ve changed from a kid who would always misbehave into a true leader,” he said. “It is really a great experience that has taught me that I have to work hard to earn things in life. They encourage us to be proactive and take advantage of what they want to offer us.”
Similarly, three former cadets Amanda Tooley, Garrett Gammons and Brody Thompson returned to the camp this summer as counselors to give back to a program they believe helped them when they were younger.
“I wanted to be involved with a program where I could have fun and be a positive role model in kids’ lives,” said Thompson. “Because I had previously been a cadet I could more easily relate with the kids, and I ended up having a great time this summer.”
Along with instilling the principles of what it takes to be a leader, cadets this summer were also able to experience some unique activities including traveling to the Traders Point Creamery, Exotic Feline Rescue Center and the Creation Museum in Kentucky.
“SFC helps expose kids to opportunities that they otherwise would never get to experience,” counselor William Watson said. “They are able to have fun while still learning valuable information that impacts their everyday life.”
For Williamson, the most rewarding aspect of the camp is exposing the cadets to these experiences and watching them apply the knowledge obtained into adulthood. He explained that many of the families involved with the program come from financially strained backgrounds and trying to motivate individual financial contributors remains a constant challenge.
However, Williamson along with the St. Florian Center Board of Directors and his dedicated staff remain focused on the camp’s bright future which he hopes one day includes obtaining their own facitlity.
“There are a lot of people behind this program who really have a passion for wanting to see our young people be successful,” Williamson said. “We want to continue to grow as an organization and remain focused on positively feeding the mind, body and spirit of our future.”