Danielle Delgado, the multi-talented director of Friendly House’s Child, Youth & Family Departments, and Gordon Hargrove, executive director of the Friendly House!
By Danielle Delgado, director of Child, Youth & Family Departments
Often as adults we will sit and reminisce about our childhood when our lives were worry-free! That priceless statement: “If I only knew then, what I know now.” No bills to pay, no major responsibilities and everything was great! Our days consisted of playing outside all day, beating the street lights home and potentially going to camps if we were lucky. We didn’t have to worry about things such as having a cell phone signal, cyber bulling or social media.
Friendly House, located at 36 Wall St., in Worcester’s Grafton Hill, recognizes that days like these are limited and wants to make sure our youth are able to enjoy every moment of their childhood. Friendly House has a rich history of offering youth programs for more than 30 years, which has helped to create lasting memories for thousands of people.
These programs have helped to build leadership, social, emotional and academic skills. In addition, they have also helped to create healthier individuals through the various recreation programs and activities that are offered. Friendly House youth programs have been the foundation for many lifelong friendships, mentorships and extended families. It has also been the place where so many youth have been engaged in once in a lifetime opportunities.
One of the most seasoned and successful programs at Friendly House is its Summer Gym & Swim Camp. This camp gives over 250 inner-city children an opportunity to explore nature, learn how to swim and create and build upon their individual and teams building skills, at various state parks during the course of the summer. Each year this program has grown tremendously in its capacity and its program offerings. The current Gym & Swim program consists of engaging 150 children a week in five program periods each day including: Recreation, Arts and Crafts, Swim, Education and Enrichment.
These activities are conducted at the 36 Wall Street location once a week and at various State Parks (rotating) three days a week, concluding with an experiential often hands-on field trip at the end of the week. All activities are lead and supervised by a very experienced, well trained summer camp staff. The summer camp curriculum often aligns with the Worcester Public School curriculum, helping to close the gap of the participants having any summer learning loss.
On an average summer morning at Friendly House, prior to walking into the building, you will see buses lined up outside, either dropping off the program participants or waiting to bring them off to their daily adventure. Once you walk into our facility you will hear the many excited voices of children singing songs during camp opening, voices counting off for a buddy check or the one lonely voice of the Camp Directors giving a camp welcome and instruction about the day’s activities. The expressions on the children’s faces are priceless, filled with excitement and overjoyed. Looking around the room you would see the faces of our future leaders. There sits faces of diversity, triumph and determination. A room full of many youth whom have come from unimaginable circumstances, but for that moment, for that day and for that week they are poured into with love, encouragement and empowerment.
Throughout the day the children are engaged in variety of activities. These activities rang from sports and recreation, to health and nutrition. A multitude of community leaders, sports figures and authors come in to conduct workshops, sports clinics and readings throughout the summer.
In addition, the children participate in a variety of themed days and weeks including: International Day, Olympic Week, Author Week and Disney Day. The Friendly House Food program provides a nutritious breakfast, lunch and snack for the participants each day. The children leave the program each day fulfilled, tired yet excited for another day. The excitement from the fun filled day is reflected in the children’s lack of physical energy as they exist the building with their parents or to board the bus for their ride home. The bus rides home are a constant reminder of all the energy exerted both physical and mentally, as the bus monitors are continuously waking the children up when they have reached their designated bus stop!
Children are not the only ones who benefit from the great experiences the children are having at camp! The parents continuously express their gratitude for the experiences that their children are having at camp. The stories shared by the parents are deeply touching. They range from life changing experience the children have had (learning to swim & making new friends) to stories stating that they wouldn’t be able to work or ever offer these experiences to their children had it not been for Friendly House. One of the parents is quoted saying: “Friendly House Gym & Swim program has completely changed my child’s life in only six short weeks. My daughter cried every day when she went to school because she had no friends. She cried for a week leading up to camp because she was afraid to go. She has major anxiety and thought no one would like her or accept her. After only two days I could see the change in her attitude. She woke up Wednesday morning early and excited to go. She had made a friend and was looking forward to twin day with her. That day I cried. I knew that was her moment and it was mine.” That was an experience of a mother last summer. That same child is already registered for all eight weeks of camp this summer!
These experiences and many more would not be possible without the fabulous funders and sponsor Friendly House gets each year. Funds that are raised each year allow us to scholarship (partial or full) over 40 participants each week at camp. There is over $10,000 given out in scholarship each summer with a waiting list of people to still receive funds.
Friendly House is grateful for sponsors such as the Hoche-Sofield Foundation, United Way and the City or Worcester Block Grant which help to support our Gym & Swim Summer Camp. We also receive countless donations from individuals and local organizations and agencies to assist with scholarship funding. In addition, we partner with the Worcester Housing Authority and the Department of Children and Families through grants and contract to provide over 50% of our summer camp slots to individuals in their care or in need.
Friendly House has been the foundation for many adults’ success and most memorable moments. We have been the agency that has been there for families and children when all else has failed. Our youth programs have help to build up trust, determination, character and strength in many promising adults and young adults of today.
We hope to continue this great work and be the agency that parents want to send their children to and donors want to fund! Every year we look forward to getting bigger and doing better!