Diocese of Massachusetts celebrates 20 years of volunteer-run summer day camp

September 19, 2019

Young volunteers from St. Andrew’s Church in Wellesley get plates full of carrot sticks ready for the tables of hungry kids that will soon fill the room. Photo: Bridget K. Wood/Diocese of Massachusetts

[Diocese of Massachusetts] The difference that the Boston-area B-SAFE summer program makes in the lives of the children and teens it serves becomes quickly apparent during a visit to a host site in full swing. What may be less obvious is the impact that the program has on the many volunteers from Episcopal churches across the diocese whose members give up some of their time and resources each summer to participate.

B-SAFE (Bishop’s Summer Academic and Fun Enrichment Program) is a five-week, full-day program serving young people from first grade through high school at Episcopal school and church sites in Boston’s South End, Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester neighborhoods, as well as Chelsea. This summer marked 20 years of the B-SAFE program, and with that, 20 years of Episcopal partner parishes making it all possible. On Friday, July 26, nearly 800 people who are connected to B-SAFE gathered at Carson Beach for the program’s 20th Anniversary Carnival .

On a Monday morning at the St. Stephen’s Church, Boston B-SAFE site this summer, lunch was being provided by St. Andrew’s Church in Wellesley. The St. Andrew’s volunteers carried in crates of food to serve. Pasta casserole, carrot sticks and sweet potato fries were on the menu — with popsicles for dessert.

As Nancy Echlov and Cam McCormick placed casseroles into the oven to warm up, McCormick explained that parishioners who were unable to take a weekday to go into Boston and serve food could still participate in B-SAFE by preparing one of the casseroles and bringing it to St. Andrew’s ahead of time.

Part of the St. Andrew’s volunteer crew for the day included Karen Pekowitz and her two daughters, Julia, 13, and Alexa, 12. They have all been volunteering with B-SAFE for the past six years.

Alexa has been helping out with B-SAFE since the age of six, and said that her favorite part is seeing her actions make a positive impact on someone else’s day.

“I just like to see that I can make someone’s afternoon or day, just by doing something simple,” Alexa said after the meals were served and the clean-up finished.

Family friends of the Pekowitzes were also on hand to help set up the tables for lunch. Though not St. Andrew’s parishioners themselves, they have regularly joined the Pekowitz family in helping out with B-SAFE over the years.  One of those friends, who is 14, told a visitor that he likes helping out with B-SAFE because he gets a chance to interact with other kids his age whom he likely wouldn’t otherwise meet.

Nancy Echlov from St. Andrew’s in Wellesley shares a conversation with a young B-SAFE participant during lunch. Photo: Bridget K. Wood/Diocese of Massachusetts

“It’s fun to connect with the other kids,” he said after lunch was over. “It’s fun to just spend time with other kids our age, serving them food and having a connection with them.”

B-SAFE partners prepare and serve lunches, provide afternoon snacks, read with children and organize Friday field trips. Through these interactions between partners and the children in the program, relationships are built across differences that might otherwise separate people.

Debbie Terry is a parishioner at Grace Church in Norwood, which has been participating in the B-SAFE program for the past 13 years. Since Grace is a smaller parish, it partners with the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan each summer to share a week at the B-SAFE site there. Terry said that after all of these years, and with many repeat volunteers, everyone seems to fall right back into their roles, both from Grace Church as well as from the Church of the Holy Spirit.

“I think we enjoy each other’s company,” Terry said in an interview. “We love working with Holy Spirit, they’re just so supportive. They are always so welcoming and we have found that we work really well together as two church groups coming together.”

In addition to building relationships between parishes, Terry said that, ultimately, the children who attend the B-SAFE program are the reason that volunteers keep coming back year after year.

“When kids come up to you and just give you a big hug around your waist, I think that’s what we all do it for,” Terry said. “We have found that the kids are happy we’re there, and we are definitely happy to be there with them. For those of us who have been doing it every year, it’s just so wonderful to see what this program is all about.”

In an email thanking the partners for a successful summer, the director of youth programs at St. Stephen’s, the Rev. Liz Steinhauser, provided some numbers from this summer’s B-SAFE program:  37,000 meals served (with 17,500 being lunches provided by partners); about 300 volunteers from partner organizations (including nearly 50 partner churches and two interfaith networks); 55 full-day field trips organized (most thanks to partners); as well as more than 100 half-day field trips. In the email, Steinhauser thanked the partners for making the summer program a success.

“You helped us build community together,” Steinhauser wrote. “In these times when stories of separation and divisiveness are lead news reports, you created ‘Good News’ stories of connection through B-SAFE.”

Many volunteers who return year after year, such as Nancy Marshall from Sudbury, expressed joy in seeing young children in the program mature into the teens and adults staffing the program.

“It’s amazing to me now, having done it for so long, to see all of these adults who were youths in the program come full circle and actively dive into this ministry themselves,” Marshall said. “I think that’s wonderful.”

Marshall and her family have been involved with the B-SAFE program since the very beginning, 20 years ago, first through St. Anne’s-in-the-Fields Church in Lincoln and now as parishioners at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Sudbury.

For Marshall and her family, working with different parishes through B-SAFE over the years has been a way for them to get to know and experience other communities around the diocese, and to feel like part of the larger diocesan community.

“We feel like we’re part of the bigger picture,” Marshall said. “[Our children] have gotten great exposure to the breadth of this diocese and the different communities, ministries and approaches to worship and liturgy.”

Marshall said that B-SAFE has simply become a part of the rhythm of her life, and is something that has blessed her with incredibly meaningful relationships and memories.

“It is ministry, it is seeing God in these children,” Marshall said. “It’s also, for me, a connection with a lot of great memories and a lot of relationships that I don’t want to see end.”

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