Kristan Hawthorne would have loved to have gone to summer camp. She could have developed her interest in poetry, or perhaps learned new dance steps. But as a District teenager in foster care, Hawthorne went back and forth between foster homes and a Florida residential treatment facility.
Hawthorne told her story yesterday to local and national children's advocates assembled for the announcement of an initiative that will give more District foster children the kinds of opportunities that she missed. Under a new partnership with the city's child welfare agency, Capital One has awarded $360,000 to fund summer camp and enrichment activities for D.C. foster children.
The McLean-based credit card company printed 2,000 copies of a booklet, "Foster One Cool Summer," that lists sports and science camps, tennis lessons and other summer activities. The D.C. Child and Family Services agency used the booklet to hold a first-time summer camp information session last month for foster parents, and will mail it to nonprofit groups and private agencies that serve foster children.
Last year, about 1,000 foster children attended summer camp and other activities. The grant will increase the number of children served to about 1,300 and allow them to sign up for more than one camp session, agency officials said. The summer programs are open to the 2,700 abused and neglected children in foster care as well as the 1,300 the agency monitors in their homes. Children ages 3 to 17 are eligible.
"We want to expose the children so they can dream big," said Child and Family Services director Brenda Donald-Walker, who added that the funding from a private corporation was a strong sign of confidence in the agency, which ended six years under a court receivership in 2001.
Capital One also has pledged $10,000 to the National Foster Parent Association for foster-parent training and will increase that amount based on the number of times visitors click on a special link at www.capitalone.com/fostercare. Casey Family Programs, which serves foster families across the country, and the Child Welfare League of America also will receive grants from the company.
About 300 District foster parents have signed up children for horseback riding, wilderness camps and weeklong sleep-away programs, said Beatrice Williar, the agency's program manager of volunteer services. Camps for physically impaired and emotionally troubled children have also been popular, Williar said. Enrollment will continue this month and most camps begin at the end of the month, she said.
Tameka Patterson, 22, who was in foster care in New York City and is working in Washington for the summer, said yesterday that attending a six-week Outward Bound camp was one of the best experiences of her life. She went hiking, rock-climbing and, best of all, got a chance to spend time away from the group home where she lived for five years.
Pausing at times to collect herself and wipe away years, she told the crowd at the Old Ebbitt Grill that her time in foster care was "the worst five years of my life," but she went on to college and plans to attend graduate school this fall.
Khaleeda Lowery, 22, an Ohio native who is here on a summer internship, said a summer enrichment program would have helped her budding interest in the arts and painting, which would have given her an outlet for the anger she felt growing up in foster care.
"I hope the program expands everywhere," Lowery said. "We should have the same opportunities that other people have."