Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

A Safe Haven: For 2 decades, St. Barnabas Center’s summer camp has given Harrisburg kids a place to be, a place to grow.

Screenshot 2015-08-26 00.23.58School’s out. Sun’s shining. What’s a Harrisburg kid to do during those warm, restless summer months?

Each summer, starting in early June, St. Barnabas Center hosts an eight-week day camp, offering kids an educational, fun and safe place to be. Located at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, camps gives them an opportunity to thrive, keeping them off the streets and out of harm’s way as they engage in a wealth of activities.

The 22-year-old program has its roots in the joint venture of Bishop Guy Edmiston of Lower Susquehanna Lutheran Synod and Bishop Charlie McNutt of the Episcopal Diocese. Since 1993, it has served as an answer for Uptown Harrisburg residents concerned over idle children during the summer season.


(sub)Good Memories

Each year, kids, 5 to 15 years old, look forward to a full day—five days a week—of mental stimulation, social interaction and spiritual nourishment.

The day starts at 7:30 a.m. with breakfast. Later on, the kids are provided lunch and a snack, taught a Bible lesson, given reading and computer practice and taken on field trips, such as to the Jackson Lick pool in Midtown. Activities conclude at 5 p.m.

Executive Director Rodger Hines said he enjoys spending time with the kids, ensuring they make the most out of the experience. Outside of the summer months, he is a teacher at Rowland Academy.

“I want [the kids] to learn about success stories, as some have come back as counselors,” he said. “These are good memories for [the camp].”

To support the program, local churches donate food for meals and help with the center’s funds. Scholarships are offered and are based on a sliding scale. For $50 a week, St. Barnabas summer camp is one of the most affordable programs in the city.

Aside from trips to the pool, kids enjoy an assortment of other activities, such as Zumba, arts and crafts, firefighter and police speakers, gardening, Lake Tobias Wildlife Park and Petting Zoo, baseball games, playgrounds and a trip to Knoebels Amusement Resort and Doc’s Family Fun Center. Field trips take place every Wednesday.

The program also places an emphasis on academics, such as a recent class focused on the science of the human body. For this, the camp broke into groups, each studying a different body part. A skit was presented to the parents at the end of the program, which gave the kids a chance to highlight what they learned and share what interested them.

Other recent science-related activities involved a garden box, rain barrels and a watch conservation project.

Hines said the children benefit in many ways from the camp, including enhanced self-worth, greater respect for others and more mature social behavior. Regardless of faith and race, all children and youth are welcomed.


(sub)Better Start

Building up life skills, focusing on spiritual development and looking to the counselors as role models have helped encourage the kids to turn from crime and violence, Hines said.

“[I feel the program] provides a safe place for children and benefits the community. It’s a better start in life, [as the children] learn how to build friendships, have fun, be kids and learn social skills,” said board chairwoman Carol Witzeman.

For funding, the program receives donations from the St. Barnabas Fashion Show, Highmark Walk, grants, local churches, families and child sponsorships, said Witzeman. About 10 percent of donations go to administration, with 90 percent directly to the program, she added.

The camp not only acts as a service for the children, but for parents, too. While the parents are working, their kids have a structured, faith-based and academic oasis to retreat to in the summertime.

Looking ahead, Witzeman would like to expand the board, involve more young professionals and set up other sites, such as in Allison Hill.

In the end, Hines believes the kids take away something positive from the experience, whether it’s aspiring to something great, improving personal character or taking steps to becoming successful citizens.

“Meet people to share a dream with. Find the thing you love to do. Don’t care about the pay, the time or how hard it is. Just do it,” said Hines, offering some insight in pursuing the dream that is St. Barnabas.

Visit for more information on St. Barnabas Center, the camp and its mission of empowering Harrisburg kids and youth.


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