Photo by Shane Harms
26 Whitman Middle School students are going to camp this summer.

26 Whitman Middle School students awarded camp scholarships from the Assistance League of Seattle

Tuesday May 13, the Assistance League of Seattle presented 26 Whitman Middle students with summer camp scholarships in the library of the school.

In total the ALS awarded 52 applicants in grades six to 11 in the district and 40 students came from the Ballard community from Salmon Bay Elementary, Whitman Middle School, Ballard High School and Ingraham High School.

Since Whitman showed such an overwhelming response to the scholarship program the ALS had a congratulatory party for them and celebrated the students’ efforts to achieve scholarships to camp with food and treats.  

The league is a national non-profit organization devoted to providing children without means financial assistance for education and experiences like summer camps that they might not experience. The ALS has been helping children in Seattle for over 50 years and has over 100 volunteer members. The Seattle chapter reaches out to students in the Seattle School District.

Mickey Sweeney, second year Chairwoman of the Enrichment Scholarship Program at the Assistance League of Seattle, was at Whitman Middle School to award the students. She said students were chosen based on an application process where they wrote an essay that explained why they should go to the camp.

“It really is amazing what these kids want to do with themselves and with a little support they try to get it. Some of them say ‘I just don’t want to sit home this summer. I just want to have some fun,’ and it's so heart rendering," said Sweeney.

Whitman Middle School Family Support Worker, Sue Clauson, said, “It’s very rewarding to read the applications. To let you know how heart felt, and passionate these kids are and how they express it is something I care about.”

Clauson and other counselors hold after school classes to talk to students about scholarship opportunities and to coach them on how to write a compelling essay.

“We hold a session after school to find out where they want to go to camp and why, and also how to say that in another way for the applications,” said Clauson.

In addition, students were asked to provide a reference from a teacher or another unrelated person much like what they would do for a college application or a job.

“Going out and making things happen for you is a part of life rather than just being handed everything. To follow through on all of that is kind of a big deal for a lot of kids," said Sweeney.

"We give them their money to go to camp with no strings attached no matter how much the program costs or how much their family might have. The cap is $500 and for some camps they are going to cost more than that but it’s a big help,” said Sweeney.

The group awards students $500 allotments to go toward the camps of their choice. This is the second year in a row that Whitman students were awarded the most scholarships. Last year they also had more than half. Sweeney said it all comes down to how the counselors are spreading the word.

“The way we get the word out is through the Seattle School District. We send out the message to a liaison of the SSD and they send it out to all the counselors and then we just wait for the applications to come in. It’s up to the counselors to let their kids know about it, and Whitman is the number one responder in the whole school district. Their counselors, their principal and students are so behind this program,” said Sweeney.

“It’s a way for kids to get to summer camp. Typically it’s not part of the family budget,” said Clauson.

Sweeney said the camp choices were across the board including culinary, dance, equestrian and YMCA camps like Camp Okrila (Orcas Island), Silverwood (Idaho) and Coleman (South Sound-Case Inlet).

YMCA camp program directors, Liane Ha’i and David Affolter, congratulated students and clued them in to the fun activities they have planned for them later this summer.

“We worked out kind of partnership with Cornish and YMCA. For the YMCA camps, if they know a student is coming to camp with the help of ALS, they will pay half and we will pay half. They’re really behind us,” said Sweeney.

Kim Caroll, lives in Ballard and this July her son Tate is going to Camp Okrila, a week long YMCA camp on Orcas Island.

“The application process was fairly easy, but it was challenging for Tate to find a teacher that knew him well enough to give him a good recommendation, and so it challenged him to be involved in the process. It wasn’t just a parent filling out the application, which was great,” said Caroll.

So where does the money come from that help students pay for camp?

The ALS funding comes from donations, an annual fundraiser, and funds from the Assisted League Thrift Shop (415 N 45th St.) in Wallingford.

Sweeney said they keep their prices very low to keep people coming back. For instance, a male’s full suit is $10. “It’s really decent stuff, and it’s so cheap,” said Sweeney. Moreover, adding to funds generated by the thrift store, this year their annual fundraiser raised $67 thousand.

“It’s a total ouroboros loop, what goes around comes around. People donate to us; we make money for students: we get things, and then we give it away. It’s a very neat community process,” said Sweeney.

On top of helping kids go to summer camp, the ALS has two other philanthropic programs. One programs provides elementary students with free clothing and full tuition and book expenses coverage for Seattle vocational college students.

“It really makes me happy I can be a part of changing the lives of so many people,” said Sweeney.

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