Fresh Air Fun

Writer: 
June 1, 2005
Simon: Off to camp

Simon: Off to camp

Saquita Simon, a sixth-grader at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School in Washington, had never paddled a canoe or sailed a boat or sung songs around a campfire. Last summer, she got to do all three--and much more, thanks to members of the Duke Club of Washington (DCW). Working through the club's Partners In Education (PIE) program, DCW created a full-tuition summer camp scholarship for Saquita that enabled her to spend two weeks at Camp Twin Creeks in Marlinton, West Virginia.

From August 1 to August 14, Saquita went swimming, zip lining, wall climbing, roller blading, and mountain biking. She played water polo, learned archery, and participated in dance and art classes. She also made new friends and earned a commendation from her counselors for her "positive attitude."

The camp scholarship was the brainchild of Hardy Vieux '93, president of DCW last year, whose niece also has attended Camp Twin Creeks. He says he views the camp scholarship as a kind of intervention to help prevent "summer slide"--loss of academic ground caused by a long period of inactivity such as summer vacation.

At the request of DCW, Ludlow-Taylor's principal picked the student to receive the scholarship. "He thought that Saquita would thrive in an environment like this," Vieux recalls, "that she showed an aptitude to quickly take to things and would do well trying new things."

Vieux met several times with the girl and her grandmother, helping them fill out forms and obtain the necessary supplies and, in general, filling them in on what to expect from the camp experience. "Hardy went above and beyond," says Jim Warren '79, a past president of DCW and the Duke Alumni Association (DAA). "He deserves unbelievable credit."

DCW started its PIE program in 1986--largely through the efforts of former DAA president Michele Clause Farquhar '79, who co-chaired the project with Warren. The Washington club became the first in the country to adopt a school. Club members sought a school with minority and economically disadvantaged students and picked Ludlow-Taylor Elementary in northeast Washington, "where we felt we could do some good work," Warren says. The aim was to combat many of the problems plaguing inner-city schools by helping to build students' self- esteem and to broaden their awareness.

Over the years, DCW members have donated computers, served as mentors, performed school-beautification projects, and taken the students on field trips to arts, sporting, and other special events. Last February, Nancy Powers Perry '81 organized a trip for students and their parents to an exhibition of art by and about African Americans. "Pretty much anything the school needed to have done, we were there as their partners," says Warren.

In 1990, the club's efforts received special recognition from the Washington mayor's office. And DCW was one of three Duke alumni clubs to receive the first Community Service Awards sponsored by the Duke Alumni Association.

"Community service has always been near and dear to my heart," says Vieux, a lawyer who defends people accused of white-collar crimes when he's not volunteering. He's now serving as unofficial chair of the PIE program and overseeing the Camp Twin Creeks scholarship. "It's something we can do on a long-term basis," he says. "And it makes such a difference."

DCW asked Saquita to write a report on her experiences at camp--"what she learned; the new challenges she faced," Vieux says. On her own initiative, Saquita sent a framed, homemade "certificate of appreciation" to the DAA, with an accompanying letter. In it, she wrote, "I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart ... and hope that other children are as lucky as I was to get that opportunity." As it turns out, they will be. DCW is sending two more Ludlow-Taylor students to camp this summer.