This week was our first week of summer camp at El Centro, ie, the first week when the kids have actually been there! Everything has gone really well so far. Our day is divided up into several chunks, including ice-breakers/opening activities, snack, reading groups, specials (which are various activities like crafts and writing workshop that the kids rotate through each week), and activity time at the end of the day. My favorite part of the day is reading groups, because during this time I get to work with Genesis and Allyson, two of our students who are still in the beginning stages of learning English. Genesis moved here about a year ago from the Dominican Republic and has had a hard time picking up English, because she started learning at a later age than most of the other students. Allyson just moved to the US from Puerto Rico a few weeks ago and doesn’t know any English aside from basic numbers and colors. I love working with these girls and helping them understand what’s going on around them when everything is being spoken in English. I’ve gotten especially attached to Allyson, who tends to cling to me when we divide into specials groups because the other children in her group all prefer to speak in English, which leaves her confused a lot of the time.

My favorite thing about El Centro is the opportunity we give these kids to regain a lot of childhood experiences they miss out on at home. A lot of the kids face very adult responsibilities, like caring for younger siblings and translating for their parents (most of whom do not speak English). At El Centro, we briefly take away so many of those worries. We can communicate with their parents without having to put them in the middle. We let them be kids instead of caretakers. It’s so much fun to watch them have fun, to see them relax and play and be children instead of trying to be adults at such an early age. Although I have only known most these children for about three days, I already love them more than I ever thought possible. I just want to take them home with me and take care of them, give them stability and security. I’m so happy we have the opportunity to do this for them a few hours every day.

When I’m not at camp, I spend a lot of time working on what I’ve decided will be my main side project this summer: forming a women’s group for the mothers at El Centro. These women work long hours in poor conditions and rarely get a chance to relax and have fun. So, once a week, we’ll have a women’s night for them at El Centro with free childcare and dinner. I’ve been spending a lot of time advertising this group and making phone calls to the mothers to invite them to join—a real test of my Spanish skills! Although this was intimidating at first, calling gets easier every time and I’m so excited to have the opportunity to practice.

I have never loved any job as much as I love working at El Centro, and I can honestly say that this has been the best summer of my life so far. I love every moment I spend with the kids, and I can only hope that they feel the same way and that they gain something valuable from this summer!

–Rachel Rutter