NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A handful of Commodore players spent their summer playing games, going on field trips, and learning how to canoe. No, they didn’t revert to childhood – rather, they helped play an important role in the lives of kids enrolled in the Martha O’Bryan Center’s summer THRIVE program.
Vanderbilt players working with inner-city youth at the O’Bryan Center has become a team tradition, with several working as summer in recent years, including former standouts Reshard Langford and George Smith.
The summer project is just one of the many service-oriented programs offered by the O’Bryan Center, which is known for the opportunities it provides for residents of surrounding neighborhoods in east Nashville.
Each of the Vanderbilt counselors say the experience has a positive impact on their own lives.
Lewis, who just finished his second summer as a counselor working with fourth graders, said the position “gives me the opportunity to change the life of a kid, to be a great role model for them.”
THRIVE is a year-round program geared toward elementary and middle school students, highlighted by its six-week program that runs through June and July every summer, according to Program Coordinator Henri Murphy. The summer counselors undergo a two-week training session prior to the start of the camp, and are assigned specific age groups with whom they work throughout the camp. THRIVE is designed to be a learning-activity camp, so the counselors were responsible for educational activities as well as supervising games and field trips.
“Math always came easy to me, so that was my favorite thing to teach,” Lewis said. “This year was different from last summer; there was more teaching involved for me. We implement a lot of games and rewards in the teaching activities.”
The theme of this summer’s camp was “In Your Own Backyard,” emphasizing opportunities within the campers’ own environments. Additionally, the effort aims to teach life skills, co-operative learning, and promote social and emotional development.
There’s plenty of summer fun to be enjoyed by kids and counselors. Frequent day trips and team-building activities are very much part of the experience. For Smith, the favorite pastime was mat ball, an activity similar to kickball. Others enjoyed a canoe trip in central.
“The canoeing trip was funny,” Smith remembered. “The kids loved it but it was exhausting. His offensive tackle agreed, “It was a long day, but watching the kids, and their reactions to the canoes and to the whole ride down the lake, was so funny. Most had never been near a canoe before,” Welch said.
The Vanderbilt counselors planned the daily activities to make sure the program met its aim of providing a general, summer-long curriculum.
“It definitely taught me some parental skills!” Welch. “Being around all the campers really gives you a good perspective on how to act around kids, how to interact with them. I thought it was also important to try to give these kids a good, important male role model.”
Parenting experience aside, the counselors all agree that the most rewarding part of camp was the opportunity to get to know the individual campers and develop those relationships throughout the summer.
Lewis’ highlight from the summer wasn’t a singular moment or event. Rather, he most enjoyed
“watching all the kids playing together and getting involved with different activities. It was good to see them just seem happy.”
“The opportunity to work with the kids, and get to know them, was just fun,” Smith agreed. “The last day was actually really sad because we got attached to the kids.”
The players do their best to remain accessible and stay in touch with some of their campers throughout the school year. Occasionally, some of the campers are able to attend football games and cheer on their counselors on the field. Welch, who will graduate in December, plans to stop by the Martha O’Bryan Center, as well as the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, as much as possible whenever he will be back in Nashville.
For his part, Murphy is thrilled to continue employing Vanderbilt athletes as summer counselors.
“I really enjoyed them,” he said. “Last year, the camp’s format was different, so [the counselors] had a lot more specific responsibilities this year, and they did really well. They just did a tremendous job, and I would love to have them back.”