Diversity camp tackles issues, promotes change
MATT HUGHES firstname.lastname@example.org
WILKES-BARRE – It’s a simple lesson, but one worth learning.
“I’m not different from you; I’m different just like you.”
That was Misericordia Diversity Institute Director Scott Richardson’s message to the students in the institute’s annual Summer Camp, which wraps up today.
The Diversity Institute Camp strives to engage diversity and promote positive change in the local community by promoting leadership, resources and support.
For 14 years, the camp has challenged area high school students to question “what is diversity,” to recognize the diversity around them and to become leaders in their communities.
“The point of it is that we’re all equal; we’re all one person,” 17-year-old Hazleton Area High School student and camp member Yarisa Polanco said.
“The idea is to break the cycle of prejudice and racism, and accept change in our everyday lives,” added fellow camper Andrew Coco, a 16-year-old Wyoming Area High School student.
Campers live on campus at Misericordia for five days and participate in lessons and activities examining different sorts of diversity, including diversity of age, religion and sexual orientation.
For a lesson on aging, Area Agency on Aging Director of Community Services Linda Kohut asked students to perform tasks such as counting money wearing special gloves to simulate the effects of arthritis and stiff joints.
And on Tuesday, the students reached out to area children, hosting children’s games at the playground in Wilkes-Barre Townhomes off Wilkes-Barre Boulevard. Camp members and advisers played carnival games and made puppets and friendship bracelets with children living in the housing community.
“This is where it starts, with the young people,” local diversity advocate Angel Jirau said at the event Tuesday.
“I wish there were more adults here,” he continued. “This is much needed with the adult population, so they could learn from these young people; how they come together.”
Carlo Mendez, an 8-year-old Spanish speaker who uses a wheelchair, said he enjoyed the event and made many new friends.
“I wish there were more events like this,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. “I really liked the games, and wish they would do things like this more often.”
But at a time when the region is growing in diversity, and it may be needed more than ever, the camp is struggling with new challenges. In previous years, the camp hosted as many as 90 students, but state budget cuts to education have hit the camp hard.
Schools pay a fee for each student they send to the camp, covering operating costs not subsidized by sponsors. Camp Director Erica Acosta said school districts facing budget crunches sent fewer students to the camp this year, and some have opted out altogether.
This year there are 24 students, ages 16 to 18, in the camp.
Jirau lamented those changes.
“If we don’t promote diversity, and get these people together, we’re going to have all the problems that these bigger cities have,” he said.