While some kids were boarding buses to head off to camps in faraway places, more than 150 kids from homeless and domestic violence shelters had a true getaway experience from Monday, June 27, to Friday, July 1, at Rainbow Days‘ 26th Annual Kids’ University. Unlike other camps, this one provided the youngsters with everything from interactive classes to formal graduation ceremony at the University of Texas at Dallas and a celebratory KidZania USA presented by SMU on Friday, when the campers explored and envisioned their possible career paths. Here’s a report from the field:
From Monday, June 27, to Friday, July 1, Rainbow Days hosted its 26th annual Kids’ University, a STEAM-themed educational summer camp experience that benefited 168 children from local homeless and domestic violence shelters, transitional living sites and extended-stay motels.
Kids’ University 2022 began with three days of interactive classes hosted at the University of Texas at Dallas. Each day, the children were placed in small groups by age to participate in a variety of engaging, hands-on classes covering STEAM educational topics and career exploration. At Kids’ University 2022, educational classes explored subjects such as physical sciences, computer animation, animal science, music, dance, financial literacy, physical education and more, including programming from The Artist Outreach and Challenge Island.
The Kids’ University experience on the UT Dallas campus concluded with a special graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 30, at the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building. There, campers wore colorful caps and gowns, received diplomas and walked across the stage to shake hands with UT Dallas’ Dr. Nils Roemer, Dr. Holly Miori and Dr. Jonathan Palant. The goal of this ceremonial experience was to allow each child to envision themselves graduating from a higher learning institution in the future.
The ceremony also featured an inspiring commencement address from Dr. Claudia K. Beeny, founder and executive director of House of Shine, a nonprofit that helps people discover what makes them unique and how to leverage their “shine” for the good of their community. Claudia’s birthday-themed speech encouraged the children to follow their dreams and celebrate the “gift of you.”
Finally, the career exploration at Kids’ University culminated on Friday, July 1, with a celebratory trip to KidZania USA presented by Southern Methodist University. At KidZania’s interactive facility, Kids’ University campers chose from more than 100 career-themed role-play activities that enabled them to explore a variety of professions and visualize a myriad of careers they could pursue in the future. The year’s event was the second annual field trip to KidZania sponsored by Southern Methodist University as part of Rainbow Days’ Kids’ University.
Given both UT Dallas’ and SMU’s strong involvement with this year’s camp experience, Kids’ University 2022 represented an exciting collaboration between two local universities for the betterment of children and youth who will become future leaders in the community and beyond.
One of the biggest benefits of Kids’ University is that it addressed a serious need of homeless children living within the confines of shelters: the lack of enriching, safe and fun summer activities. Kids’ University made it possible for children to practice their life skills alongside positive adult mentors and learn new things in a fun, child-friendly setting away from the shelter environment.
Another significant benefit of the camp was introducing homeless children to higher education and life on a college campus, which in turn helps encourage them to pursue the dream of college themselves. Kids’ University gave the campers the opportunity and space to decompress, strengthen their STEAM education knowledge, and consider the multitude of career options and higher education paths that await them.
Rainbow Days is grateful for the numerous donors and volunteers who made this special camp experience possible. Kids’ University 2022 was sponsored in part by the generous financial support of the Dallas ISD Homeless Education Program and Women of Saint Michael. Additionally, Rainbow Days cherishes its partnerships with UT Dallas, KidZania USA and SMU, which all hosted various Kids’ University activities this year. Special thanks are also in order for the following foundations for their overall support of Rainbow Days’ Family Connection program benefiting homeless children: The Moody Foundation, The Rees-Jones Foundation, Citi, Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation, Capital for Kids, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, Baron and Blue Foundation, In-N-Out Burger Foundation, Simmons Bank and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.
* Photo provided by Rainbow Days