Kids’ University Gives Campers a Taste of College
Annual Program Encourages Children from Shelters to Stay Healthy, Dream Big
With chants of “I don’t quit, I don’t quit,” the voices of more than 150 children brought this summer’s Kids’ University to a close.
Daryl, 10, and Karen, 9, are brother and sister. “There’s a lot more than doing drugs,” Daryl said. “You can make your own choices.”
Dr. George Fair congratulates a Kids’ University student dressed in full regalia during the graduation ceremony.
The annual four-day camp is designed to give children from local homeless shelters the chance to experience a college environment. In addition to math and science, classes emphasized healthy lifestyles. Campers prepared organic and natural foods, made art and learned discipline in karate and balance in yoga. The camp also stressed the importance of drug-free living.
“We are continuing to meet the needs of this group of children that face a challenging environment, we are continuing to meet the needs of the community – that’s why we do this,” said Dr. George Fair, dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies. Fair oversaw the upstart of the camp 16 years ago and continues to be UT Dallas’ primary Kids’ University liaison.
The camp ends each year with a graduation ceremony. This year’s speaker, Raul Magdaleno, assistant director of community outreach at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, delivered a message about enduring. Magdaleno’s story of growing up in poverty surrounded by abuse and violence triggered the chanting of “I don’t quit.”
“You may not be able to change where you’ve been, but you can change where you’re going,” Magdaleno said.
Graduates celebrate the end of a fun-packed four days.
Iykell, 10, (left) and Trevor, 11 (right). “Don’t drop out; make healthy decisions. What you’re doing can really affect you,” Iykell said. “That’s what we’re learning.”
Kids’ University runs on the volunteer efforts of Rainbow Days, a nonprofit group whose mission is to provide children living in high-risk situations with the skills and support they need to overcome adversity and stay drug free.
“Our relationship with UT Dallas and Dr. Fair over the past 16 years continues to get better and better,” said Kelly Wierzbinski, Director of Family Connection at Rainbow Days. “When we first started with only 40 to 50 children I never imagined it would expand into two weeks of camps to support the ever-growing population of homeless in Dallas. Dr. Fair makes everything so easy at UT Dallas and does everything he can to make it successful. I consider Dr. Fair not only a wonderful educator with a big heart making a difference in this world but also someone I look up to. In a lot of ways he is a hero to me and to the children we serve. Dr. Fair’s heart-felt invitation to every camper to come back to UT Dallas as a student carries momentum and inspiration for a brighter future.”
About 1,600 children have participated since the camps began in 1995.
Over the years, Kids’ University has changed as circumstances have warranted. In summer 2006, a second session was added for the youngest victims of Hurricane Katrina. More recently, Kids’ University expanded to two sessions to meet the needs of children affected by the national economic downturn.
For more information, go to the Rainbow Days website.
Educational camp activities included karate and up-close introductions to a visiting collection of reptiles.
“I'm living my purpose," guest speaker Raul Magdaleno told the campers during the graduation ceremony.”
Melissa, 16, and Fortino, 12, brother and sister, were campers in previous years but worked on the staff this year. “It’s good to push other people as I was pushed and to give back,” Melissa said.
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].