When I first interviewed Nicholas Midler, the young philanthropist who founded The Family Connection Kindercamp, I expected to learn how a high school teen was able to found a nonprofit and some of the work that the organization is doing. While the conversation did meet those expectations, something else unexpectedly jumped out at me – the value of support networks, families, and community.
I’ve worked with nonprofit organizations who are similar to The Family Connection Kindercamp in that their programming is specifically targeting youth who may not have access to resources. In most of my experiences, I focused my energy on the youth and tended to forget about their extended support network. Nicholas’ responses reminded me how much my own success in life is a direct result of my support network, and how that should influence my work. From the way he works with partners, to considering the schedule of parents while creating programming, to valuing his own support network…his answers show how an expanded concept of “community” can both support an organization’s programming efforts and the professional development of the people in charge. For more insight on building community through education and family, you may want to check out my interview with Stephen Ritz of the Green Bronx Machine.
Which teachers or educational experiences inspired you? In what way(s)?
I benefitted from some absolutely great teachers. When I think back on my educational experiences, I think of when I started school and the support network I got from some of my first teachers. They were ready, willing, and available to go over things in class with me and the other students one-on-one to really make sure we learned the material. I can trace a lot of my later academic success to those early experiences learning and working with them.
The importance of a support network has really impacted me and driven me to realize the importance of this camp. When I go to the Kindercamp in the Virgin Islands, I see that what’s lacking for a lot of kids is that same sort of support network and the ability to get the type of help they deserve and need. I go to the camp and I see these perfectly bright, amazing kids who are struggling from this lack of a support network that’s allowed other kids to succeed. Realizing what I could do, and that I could help build that support network, spurred me on to create the camp.
Who did you look to for support in the early years of building your nonprofit?
I definitely have to highlight the great team I have. The camp is a public-private partnership, the public side coming from the public school teachers and administrators who create the program and work at the camp. Thelca Bedminster, a local elementary school principal and an administrator at the camp, worked on the curriculum of the camp and all of its educational operations. The teachers involved in the programming also have years of experience and are absolutely fantastic. I can’t praise them enough! They show commitment and dedication before the program by prepping the classrooms and creating the activities, then they stay after for debriefing meetings. We use a research based child-led learning curriculum at the camp so everyday the teachers are on their toes creating new, engaging things to challenge the kids everyday. The private side consists of mainly our sponsors – Fintrac, Sea Glass properties, and the Feuerzeig and Prior families. Without them, we really couldn’t exist.
How are the parents involved?
There is a common phrase in early childhood education that parents are the first and most important teachers. There is a great reason for why people say this. Up to age five is when 80-90% of the child’s brain is developed and the people who tend to be with the kids the most during that time are the parents. So at the camp, the doors are always open to the parents. We invite them in and encourage them to come and work with the kids during the activity time.
We also have specific events. There’s the opening orientation where we have a long talk about what they can expect from the camp and where the parents can help. Then we have a closing ceremony that’s a really proud moment. The parents can see how the kids have advanced in the 6-week program. We also have field trips that everyone loves! They go to the aquarium, local airport control tower, the children’s theater (last year we saw a production of Aladdin, Jr. that they loved!) and the parents can come along on these.
What are some of the ways your work with the Kindercamp has impacted the community?
We’ve been featured by the local press a couple of times which is fantastic. The largest and most immediate impact we’re having is on the kids we are serving in those six weeks! The difference is so visible from day one to the end of the camp. What’s heartening is that there is some great research out there, like the HighScope Perry study, that highlight that the changes you make now, the investments you make now in early childhood education, stay with the kids all the way up to high school and even later in life. I see it as a ripple effect into the community.
We have some amazing, committed parents in the program and I hope that we are able to foster connections between the parents and the experienced teachers. We really want to emphasize how helpful it is that they are reading to them for 10 minutes every night, to work with them over their homework and be the kind, watchful, nurturing eye while they complete the homework.
My conversation with Nicholas Midler reminded me that relationships are important for the success of individuals and programming. He has grown his community through networking, expanding his focus on youth to include other adults who may have an impact, and using his own support network as a model for the development of his organization. Too often often we confuse “community” with “target population” in our work. “Community” is more than just a selected location or ideal programming participant – it is who supports us, who we want our work to support, and who helps us create the best possible impact on our world!