Memphis Mayor A C Wharton is already thinking about spring break and summer camp as he announced last Friday that the city and a private donor will help more kids stay busy in their idle days this year.
Wharton said Memphis businessman Avron Fogelman contributed an undisclosed amount of money to the city last week, enough to allow 1,500 Memphis children on public assistance to go to the city's Summer Day Camp this year for free.
The camp cost $81 for kids on public assistance last year. Covering those fees for 1,500 children would have cost $121,500. The regular rate for the seven-week camp was $162 last year.
Wharton said the donation was not solicited. Fogelman said his motivation was in recognizing the financial strain on cities these days and that "corporate world and public citizens need to step up" and give cities some help.
"I can think of nothing more important than finding ways for the youth of Memphis to be off the streets during the long, hot summers and to be able to be productive and accomplish things," Fogelman said. "There's nothing more important to me, in my stage in life, but the care of the youth and the generation yet to come."
Fogelman only hinted at the undercurrent of the announcement: keeping children occupied and out of trouble. Wharton hinted at it, too, noting that many of his news interviews are about "some unseemly thing young folks have done." He said Fogelman's commitment "made my year." Wharton spent much of last year discussing a mob of teens beating people in a Kroger parking lot.
The Summer Day Camp is run by the city's Division of Parks and Neighborhoods and held at 25 of the city's community centers. From 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., children can create arts and crafts, play sports, play music, and more. The camp is typically seven weeks long, but Wharton said he will expand the camp to eight weeks this year.
Parks director Janet Hooks said the camp's total capacity is about 2,400 children. The camp costs the city $72,800 each week to run, she said. Wharton issued a challenge with the announcement, asking more companies and citizens to come forward and donate. Local companies Central Defense Security and the Daniel Law Firm already pay the fees for some children, city officials said. But Wharton said he wanted to be able to offer the program to every Memphis child on public assistance.
"You've heard of Governor [Bill] Haslam's plan so that every child who wants to go to college will be able to go," Wharton said. "Well, if we don't take care of them at this age, they will not be in a position to even consider going on to college." Donations to the program can be made to the Division of Parks and Neighborhoods. For more information, call 576-4200.
Wharton also announced a new initiative that will, for the first time, open all of the city's community centers during spring break this year and provide "wholesome, structured activities."