Erika Cooper is one of Waterbury's great problem solvers. She's a Scovill Row Homes/WOW neighborhood resident, and my neighbor, so I'm extra pleased to see how much she's accomplished in the past year. Last fall, after a series of shootings rattled the neighborhood, and after discussing fears for their children with other parents at the school bus stop, Cooper formed the Uplift A Life Parents Committee. The group led a march and rally against the violence last September.
|Preparing to march through the neighborhood on September 28, 2014.|
Since September, Cooper has organized regular neighborhood cleanups for the neighborhood kids, building pride and teaching them the importance of contributing to their community, that they have the power to make things better. As she said today, we have to care--if we don't care, no one else will.
Now that summer is here, Cooper has started a free summer camp to give the neighborhood kids something to do and to help them in the areas in which they are falling behind at school: math and reading. This afternoon, she held a press conference at Kingdom First Church on Ives Street to announce the launch of the new summer camp.
|Erika Cooper at the podium, flanked by volunteers who are assisting with the new summer camp.|
The original plan was to hold the summer camp at the Kingdom First church, but the building needs some renovation before this can be done. Thanks to Alderman Greg Hadley, the camp is now being held at the WOW/NRZ Community Learning Center.
As Cooper emphasized in her speech today, the program is very much a collaborative effort supported by some of Waterbury's great community assistance organizations. Neighborhood Housing Services of Waterbury, the Connecticut Community Foundation, Waterbury Bridge to Success, and Safe Haven of Greater Waterbury have all lent a helping hand.
Summer camp volunteers include teachers and Board of Education Commissioner Juanita Hernandez. Members of the Brass City Kings football team have volunteered to be mentors for youth in the program--during the event this afternoon, they talked about their roots in the community and the importance of teaching kids that where they come from doesn't control who they can be.
Volunteers for the program also include kids. The K1 (Kingdom First) Youth Council will be helping out, and members spoke today about how they like having something to do, and that they like being able to help others.
Also participating is the City of Waterbury's new Recycling Coordinator, CJ May, who incorporates magic tricks into his educational outreach programs. May came in costume as Cyril the Sorcerer, but told the audience that the best magic is the magic that the kids have inside themselves.
|Cyril the Sorcerer|
Cooper says there are about 74 kids enrolled in the summer camp, which is fantastic. They are still in need of some supplies, so if you have pencils, crayons, or workbooks you could donate, please do. They're also looking for digital cameras to use in a media project, and supplies for outdoor activities like badminton. They are also trying to figure out how to fund a few field trips for the kids. You can reach Cooper by email at mrscommunity @ hotmail.com.
After the speeches, we were treated to a peek at the Kingdom First kids' room, decorated with murals painted by Cooper's husband (see photos below).
There's a lot of great stuff happening in Waterbury and in the WOW neighborhood. People like Erika Cooper, people who see solutions and build collaborations to solve problems, are making this city better for everyone. This is the heart and soul of Waterbury, and of humanity: people doing what they can to help others.
|Erika Cooper being interviewed by Mike Patrick of the Rep-Am (right side of photo). |
Keep an eye out in the paper for his coverage of this event and program!