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Boys search shoreline Tampier Lake Forest Preserve OrlTownship looking for dead fish as they explore nature during youth camp offered

Boys search the shoreline at the Tampier Lake Forest Preserve in Orland Township, looking for dead fish as they explore nature during a youth camp offered by the Cook County Sheriff's Department. | Susan DeMar Lafferty |Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 29, 2014 6:15AM



It was a week filled with typical summer activities — fishing, boating, swimming and watching baseball.

But what is typical for many children was a first-time experience for youngsters from public housing developments in Robbins, Chicago Heights and Ford Heights, who were welcomed to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s Youth Camp for disadvantaged kids.

“Our goal is to have fun and build trust,” said Dart, who met the kids out at the Tampier Lake Forest Preserve at 131st Street and Wolf Road on Friday afternoon. “We care a lot about these kids. We do not want it to be a one-time hit and walk away.”

Dart has hosted the camp nearly every year since he became sheriff. This was the first of two week-long camps, and it was a joint effort with the Housing Authority of Cook County. The second camp, Aug. 11-15, is for youths who are in the sheriff’s Truancy Initiative in Robbins.

The goal is to provide youths with educational and recreational activities, have them spend time with positive role models and have fun with sheriff’s department employees so they realize the workers are “not just about law enforcement,” said Joanne Bieschke, director of the department’s youth services. “We try to make connections with kids, help them make good choices and get to them before they get into trouble.”

For many of the 50 youths who came to camp last week, it was their first baseball game or first time in a rowboat.

“It was scary. The water splashed in the boat, and it was rocking,” said Cenilia, 8, pointing to her slightly wet jeans.

Fishing attracted a crowd, as kids lined up on the pier and were equipped with poles and bait provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

“You got to wait. You got to be patient,” Amoree Gantt told his fellow campers as they stared anxiously at their bobbers in the water. “My granddaddy taught me how to fish.”

Some were eager to catch and eat the fish, but, alas, were told it was only catch-and-release fishing.

When Paris Brown caught the first fish, no bigger than a goldfish, his smile was bigger than the fish itself. Emarion Ford, of Ford Heights caught a little bluegill and held it up proudly for a photo before it was tossed back into the water.

The week included a trip to the Windy City ThunderBolts baseball game in Crestwood, the 31st Street beach, the Orland Park swimming pool complex and the forest preserve outing.

“We get them out of the neighborhood and give them a chance to do something they may not have done before,” Bieschke said.

The program also includes a service project, so the children learn the “importance of giving back, no matter what is going on in their lives,” she said.

This year, the participants made blankets. In previous years, they planted flowers and painted park benches.

The campers are served breakfast and lunch daily and get free T-shirts that say “Camp Nabad,” or Camp Peace. There are brief talks and activities to promote peace and harmony, motivation and dealing with stress.

While there are structured activities throughout the week, there is also downtime to give the kids a chance to explore the outdoors, camp coordinator Dan Canavan said.

Boys were searching for dead fish along the shore, while Keshawn Whisenton, 13, of Ford Heights, was jumping rope with a group of girls until it was time for fishing and boating. It’s her fourth year at the camp.

“I like the whole thing,” she said.

Amoree Gantt, of Robbins, the experienced fisherman, looked forward to his first time in a boat, but the whole week, he said, “was really fun.” His favorite activity was “everything.”

“I like them to try new activities, and not say “no, I don’t like it” or “I’m scared,” said Latoyia Hayes, one of the camp coordinators who planned the activities. “We also want them to know that there are people who really care about them.”

Bieschke said the sheriff’s department reaches out to disadvantaged children throughout the year, including visiting schools.

“Hopefully, we are at least planting seeds and making some connections,” she said.



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