Summer Program Turns 5: Building Community, Building Trust

When summer comes around, the Bilingual Youth Program’s regular after-school program ends, but the fun doesn’t: a four-week Summer Camp fills the middle of summer break, continuing to enrich kids’ summers with fun and adventure. Each day is filled with new games, lessons, and field trips for the 65 campers: soccer, swimming, and lessons that help kids imagine how they want to change the future fill their days. Special art lessons focused on creating alebrijes (animal figures based on Mexican folklore) served as an important vehicle to discuss bi-cultural identities and empowerment. Lessons on empathy, respect, and healthy coping skills help kids develop their emotional toolkit, and trips to places like the St. Louis Zoo, Skyzone, the City Museum, and Cahokia Mounds introduce kids to new parts of the region.

Youth Program Director Karina Skrbec’s vision and dedication shaped the formation of Summer Camp 5 years ago. Today, she and a dedicated staff of two, Lily De La Garza and Matt Roberts, envision and run each Summer Camp. Five years after the first camp, she reflects, “we’ve built a community with the kids and families in the Youth Program, which is our number one goal. The families have become an active part of the program, and we are seeking out new ways to give back to the community.”

Building Trust

Summer Camp fulfills a key goal of the Bilingual Youth Program: ensuring children of immigrants have the same access to opportunities as any other youth in the community, and that they gain the self-confidence, social skills, and academic skills each child deserves. Children of immigrants may face several unique challenges: they might have to act as interpreters for their parents, feel isolated because their parents speak another language, or have limited experiences due to their parents’ socioeconomic status or their citizenship status. All of those challenges can make kids feel pushed into adult responsibility far before they are anywhere near adult age.

Due to this, the Youth Program and Summer Camp in particular creates an opportunity for these kids to just focus on their own growth. A child of immigrants herself, staff Lily De La Garza is familiar with these challenges. She says, “It’s important for kids to feel like they have a place to just be kids. They can come here and have a safe space to share with adults who understand their experiences and who can say, ‘I understand what you are going through, and it’s going to be ok.’” While these challenges might cause a child to feel isolated, with staff and friends who understand them these don’t have to hinder a kid’s future success or their self-esteem. Through new experiences and in the presence of adults and mentors who care, kids can be the best version of themselves: creating healthy relationships with others and themselves, confident and successful in school.

De La Garza says, “For the kids who are here year-round, summer camp creates an important foundation of trust for the rest of the year.” Throughout the four weeks, kids new to the Youth Program can bond with the staff and create friendships. Matt Roberts described one youth’s transformation throughout the duration of their first camp: “When they first waled in the door they didn’t know who to talk to. Now, two weeks later, this same child is laughing and has developed a group of friends who they are connecting with – and that is what summer camp is all about.”

At St. Francis Community Services, our goal is to walk alongside community members, whatever their challenges might be. It is a joy to serve the next generation of our greater St. Louis community. Last year, the youth program served 145 youth, from ages 7-12. Learn more about the Bilingual Youth Program here.

A Few Photos from the Month

Adventuring at the Cahokia Mounds.

Having fun and keeping cool with free drinks from 7-Eleven on 7-Eleven Day!


Drawing to finish out a day of camp.