Troy University’s Elm Street Gym was packed with activity and excitement during the fourth annual Civic Heroes Camp hosted by the Office of Civic Engagement held from July 17-21.
At Civic Heroes Camp, campers become superheroes-in-training and build their own communities, run their cities and help their neighbors. Campers also participate in creative games, activities and civic lessons that teach about government and what it means to be a good citizen. The campers were visited by a new community hero each day, including a police officer, a veterinarian, City of Troy Parks and Recreation Director Dan Smith and Jedidiah Bush, a seventh-grade civics teacher at Charles Henderson Middle School.
New this year, campers were introduced to the idea of community assets, said Civic Engagement Coordinator Lauren Cochran.
“It’s this idea of asset mapping and realizing the benefits and advantages in your community,” she said. “When we asked students to define an asset, which is probably not a term they’re familiar with, one student said it was an opportunity and I went, ‘Oh, I love that idea.’ We also talked about how individuals and organizations can be assets, and even how culture and tradition are part of a community’s assets.”
They focused on four main categories: education, healthcare, community and recreation/environment. For the next activity, students were asked to identify challenges in these areas of their community and were tasked with developing a campaign for a mock vote to implement some of their changes.
“Instead of them electing an individual, they were voting on a concept that they developed based on the asset mapping activity. It’s a little bit of an advanced concept for them, but they were all into it,” Cochran said. “They learned about local assets and really thought things through. As a kid, you would probably typically think a bowling alley or a movie theater would be a great asset, or a playground or a ball field. We also got them to think about how a hospital and doctors and health clinics are a major advantage to communities because they help a community care for each other.
“It’s a complex challenge for kids, but they really had some incredible ideas.”
For the healthcare campaign, campers decided between changing the bad-tasting fluoride at the dentist’s office and affordable healthcare. Lyndie Carson, a fifth grader at Troy Elementary, said the community service campaign developed a housing plan to aid the homeless population.
“We want to provide food and tiny houses for the homeless so they have somewhere to live,” she said. “There will be a security pantry with a crate for every house where we can just go and get the box of food and supplies and bring it to their house. We also want kind of like a moving sidewalk or conveyor belt that goes to the hospital and other places in the community.”
Carson said everyone in the community services group took part in creating the idea and that talking about values throughout the week influenced their decision.
“We talked about how to be respectful, honest and compassionate, so I think the compassionate part really got us all thinking,” she said.
Jonah Lauer, another fifth grader at Troy Elementary, said the education campaign he was part of talked about the need for more field trips, buses and security and downloadable textbooks.
“We were mostly brainstorming about things our school needed,” he said.
Lauer also added that his favorite part about camp were the games and getting to listen to the community heroes.
“It’s fun to learn about how other people help the community,” he said.
In addition to the campaign, campers decided to write a letter to the Troy City Council and the mayor after listening to Smith’s ideas for the Parks and Rec department.
“The kids were really excited to hear about those ideas, and on theme for the week, they decided that they would write the mayor and the City Council to advocate for including those things in the next budget,” Cochran said. “So they’re really getting a chance to exercise those citizen muscles. They’re not only learning all about the community and the services that are offered, but they’re really getting a chance to be a part of what happens in our community.”
The camp was made possible thanks to a grant from the David Matthews Center for Civic Life and its Jean O’Connor-Snyder Internship Program (JOIP). Located in Montevallo, Ala., the Center strives to build skills, habits and capacities for more effective civic engagement and innovative decision making and is active in all of Alabama’s 67 counties.