published Friday, October 21st, 2011

Chattanooga grandparents host Fall Extravaganza Camp for youth

Alex Harvey, 9, bottom right, finishes creating a T-shirt during a fall break camp at Renaissance Presbyterian Church for children living in the Westside area.
Alex Harvey, 9, bottom right, finishes creating a T-shirt during a fall break camp at Renaissance Presbyterian Church for children living in the Westside area.
Photo by Dan Henry.


• Emma Wheeler Homes residents will host a fall festival from 4 to 7 p.m. today at the community on Edinburg Drive.

• College Hill Courts will host a Stop the Violence Awareness festival from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 29 at the baseball field on Grove Street.

• Kingdom Harvest Church will host the “Blessed to be a Blessing Thanksgiving Jam” from noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Sheila M. Jennings Recreational Center, 1201 Poplar Ave.

• For more information about upcoming camps conducted by Mamie and Lester Owens, email or call 423-704-0261.

Mamie and Lester Owens had such a hard time finding affordable day care for their grandchildren, they took child care classes and opened a day care themselves.

This week, they hosted a Fall Extravaganza Camp for Westside residents and youth throughout the city who needed a place to go during fall break from Hamilton County Schools.

They’re planning to hold the same program in the upcoming winter and spring breaks, said Mamie Owens, who also operates Loving Arms of Wisdom day care.

“These children are the next generation, and it appears that they’ve lost the simple value of how to treat each other,” Lester Owens said.

Kiarah Bates, 7, said she likes the camp “because I get to draw pictures and play with friends, and when I’m sad it cheers me up.”

The camp operates Monday through Friday and offers children age 5 to 14 tutoring in reading, math and English; arts and crafts; and field trips. So far the campers have been to the Riverpark and the downtown library. The children are scheduled to have a pizza party today and act out a play about cyber-bullying that they wrote, Mamie Owens said.

The Owenses got the idea for the camp after running into problems raising their own grandchildren. They had been taking care of their grandson since he was born and began taking care of another grandchild in 2007 when the child’s mother left the child with them and never returned, Mamie Owens said.

“We couldn’t get any help, no [Department of Children’s Services] ... no food stamps. It drove me crazy,” said the 55-year-old grandmother. “Why should grandparents be penalized for loving their grandchildren?”

She heard other grandparents who were raising children utter the same complaints about a lack of assistance. So she and her husband started seeking services and attending childcare classes.

They teamed up with friend Cheryl Norris, who had a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education administration, and offered the fall break camp at Renaissance Presbyterian Church, which is within walking distance of College Hill Courts, the city’s largest public housing site.

Cost of the camp will be offered on a sliding scale based on a caregiver’s ability to pay, they said, and the Relative Caregivers program, a state initiative created to support children not living with their parents, provides scholarships for some children who participate in the program.

The fall camp ends today, but the Owenses said they will start a winter break camp when school dismisses this year for Christmas vacation. The camp will follow a similar format this winter, Mamie Owens said.

On Thursday, Lester Owens, 54, sat in a lawn chair on the side of the church while younger children in the program ran through the church parking lot and a few boys played soccer in the grass. He said he and his wife want to share the wisdom they’ve gained with the youth.

“There is a void and we’re trying to fill it,” he said.

Standing in a room scattered with dark covered T-shirts decorated with sparkling glitter, glue and buttons, 7-year-old Hezekiah McDonald showed off a piece of tree bark he decorated.

“The activities are the best part about camp,” he said.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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