Most high school students plan their summer vacation around trips to the beach and music festivals. But for Sara Papantonio and Mollie Johnson, junior and sophomore students respectively at Gulf Breeze High School, this summer is about giving back.
Papantonio and Johnson both discussed creating a free, week-long summer program for elementary school students in Pensacola.
“One day before soccer Sara and I talked about how there was a need for summer camps,” Johnson said.
It was fate that brought them to A.A. Dixon Charter School of Excellence.
“I talked to my dad about starting a camp and he had just talked to Rev. LuTimothy May,” Papantonio said. “We visited the school and thought ‘What a great program this will be for the students.’”
Rev. May, the president of the charter school’s board of directors, was especially touched by the thoughtfulness of the two young women.
“It’s difficult enough to get adults engaged,” May said. “It took me a while to wrap my mind around the fact that two teenagers, not challenged by parents, wanted to engage the community.”
“Winning Today, Leading Tomorrow”
May offered guidance and direction, but the real work was up to Papantonio and Johnson. Before they started planning activities, money had to be raised. Sara and Mollie both raided their parents e-mail contacts and sent out letters asking for help. The result? Almost $9,000. Aloha Screen Printing also donated shirts to the camp.
“It was a very easy process,” Papantonio said about fundraising. “People have been willing to help us. Hopefully we’ll get donations for food, and whatever we don’t spend will go to A.A. Dixon.”
The camp, fittingly named Kids Unlimited, will be June 25-29. The camp is only open to 60 second grade to fifth grade students. Papantonio and Johnson hope the camp will continue to grow even after they graduate high school and move. Both have sights set for colleges in the North.
“It would be a great tradition to carry on,” Johnson said.
As a junior, Papantonio has been thinking of the future beyond graduation. Her choice of college is currently undecided, but she does have an idea of what career path she might take.
“I enjoy doing charity work,” she said.
The 60 students will be nominated by organizations in the A.A. Dixon area. Papantonio explained she wants students who will benefit the most from the camp to be nominated.
“We want children who show leadership to be involved,” she said.
Kids Unlimited will get children’s bodies and minds moving with sports such as soccer, football, karate, dancing and more. Breakfast and lunch will also be provided. The camp founders hope to get big names such as Emmitt Smith and Roy Jones Jr. to speak to the students as well as local high school football players. Speakers should embody the camp’s motto, “Winning today, leading tomorrow.”
“I hope students learn they can take whatever they have and make something great out of it,” Johnson said.
Students don’t lack the brain power to become successful, but they do often times lack exposure to their potential.
“We hope to bring some exposure, excitement, education, example –all the ‘e’s,” May said. “We want to show them something they don’t know or haven’t seen.”
For five days, parents and guardians of the selected 60 students won’t have to worry about what their child is doing all day – not to mention what they’re going to eat.
“A lot of these students would probably be at home wondering ‘What am I going to do today?’” May said. “Ninety-nine percent of A.A. Dixon students receive free-lunches. Even if parents wanted them to go to camp, it’s not economically feasible.”
Becoming the Solution
The Kids Unlimited summer camp will be an eye-opener for Gulf Breeze High School volunteers as well. As Papantonio explained, most Santa Rosa County students think of the mall or downtown when Pensacola is mentioned.
“No one ventures out to see Pensacola,” she said. “The camp will be just as much of a learning experience for us.”
Both Papantonio and Johnson are quick to mention how fortunate they are, which just made them want to reach out even more.
“It’s our job to help people who aren’t blessed like we were and improve the situation,” Johnson said.
Students at A.A. Dixon Charter School of Excellence are important to May, which is why he has stepped up to support the school as board president. To have teenagers give their time, without provocation, gives May hope.
“They’ve shown our community can become better when you engage yourself in the solution,” he said of Sara and Mollie. “Life is much larger than what we do for ourselves. Anyone and everyone can become the solution.”
KIDS UNLIMITED CAMP
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 25-29
WHERE: A.A. Dixon Charter School of Excellence, 1201 N. H St.
COST: Free, but spots limited
DETAILS: To nominate a child, ask about volunteering or donating, or for more information contact Sara and Mollie at firstname.lastname@example.org.