Story and images by Philly.com
In the early morning, before the sun starts to blaze, the girls and boys who get dropped off at the Blues Babe Foundation on North Broad Street, across from the old Uptown Theater, are quiet.
It is 8:20 a.m., and 32 children, ages 10 to 15, are sleepy-eyed and subdued as they board a chartered yellow school bus to Camp Jill Scott.
In about 45 minutes, the campers will arrive at Briarwood Day Camp, some 40 miles north of Philadelphia. It’s a lush, 30 acres of green space, cabins, playgrounds, baseball fields and swimming pools.
After a morning “Harambee” circle where they chant “We are Camp Jill Scott” and other rousing chants to get them motivated, the campers go off in twos and threes on a leisurely scavenger hunt for things you would find in the woods: “a piece of bark,” “a caterpillar” and “something scented.”
Grammy-winning singer Jill Scott, who grew up in North Philadelphia, founded the free, five-day camp eight years ago as part of her Blues Babe Foundation.
“She always said having the opportunity to go to camp in the summer and experiencing nature helped her realize the world was a much bigger place than North Philadelphia,” said Aisha Winfield, camp director.
Each year, most of the campers come back until they are about 15. Briarwood Day Camp in Furlong, Pa., has been home to Camp Jill Scott for the last six years.
Scott, who sometimes visits the camp, liked the idea of providing camp in either the third or fourth week of August, as an “end-of-summer” gift to children to relax and unwind just before the start of a new school year, Winfield said.
It is the fourth day of the five-day camp and the scavenger hunt is just the right activity for kids who have been playing hard all week. An adult supervisor says it was the first day all of the children fell asleep on the ride to camp and had to be awakened.
After the scavenger hunt, it’s time to change for the swimming pool. They are quiet no more. The sounds of laughter and squealing ring out from the large swimming pool.
“I think it’s a good thing for kids to be out in nature,” said Kyla Gordon, 11, who is going into the 6th grade at Hill Freedman World Academy. “And it’s a lot of fun.”
Markus Dixon, who is almost 12 and going into the 6th grade at the Gesu School, said what he likes most about camp is “the atmosphere and all the activities.
He said he doesn’t have a problem getting up early each morning to get to camp.
“At night, I pack my bag with my swim trunks and a towel. I’m always getting my mom up Finally, she started to set her alarm.”
Each day there are outside activities, swimming and volleyball, softball and basketball. On Wednesday, the group tried the rock-climbing wall.
Amaya Fulton, 10, who attends Tacony Academy Charter School, scampered up the wall right after two boys ahead of her decided to come down after getting almost half way up.
“Girl power!” the counselors shouted as Amaya scurried up the wall with determination.
Amaya said this is her second summer and she wasn’t scared.
“I did it last year,” she said.
In addition to outdoor fun and games, each day the campers also have some kind of science or art activity.
One day, they made “bath fizzies” by mixing baking soda, cream of tartar, water and an essential oil, either lemongrass, lavender or peppermint.
On other days, there have been classes in photography and podcasting.
Kiya McIntosh, 12, is going into the 7th grade at Gesu School in North Philadelphia.
“I like it because you can just be yourself, she said. “No one is bullying you or being mean.”
After eight years, some of the former campers are now counselors. One of them is James Kee, 16, who is entering his junior year at Central High School in September. “It gives them a new experience,” Kee said.
Another camper-turned-counselor is Alexander Alford, 19, a student at Community College of Philadelphia, who said he thinks he started Camp Jill Scott in its first or second year.
For city kids, Alford said, the camp is like going to an oasis of peace and relaxation:
“You don’t have to worry about watching for traffic while you’re out playing and just getting away from the noise and hustle and bustle of the city, it’s just peaceful.”