HOW TO HELP
To support East Lake Summer Camp, go to http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ms-lawrence-s-east-lake-summer-camp or call Jesse Lawrence at 423-255-6508.
ABOUT THE CAMP
Hours: Camp is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, May 28 to Aug. 27.
To sign up: Come to the East Lake Community Center on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. until May 23. Ten slots are still available.
Jesse Davis Lawrence is determined to have a kids camp at East Lake Courts no matter what.
It doesn't matter if the 64-year-old public housing resident is sick or well.
She had breast cancer in 2011, problems with blood clots in 2012 and a heart attack in March. Yet she has hosted camp every year for the past decade and has no intention of missing this year.
"I don't want to see children hurt in the street," said Lawrence, who represents one of about 417 households in East Lake, the city's second-largest and second-oldest public housing development.
This year Lawrence is getting help from the Grove Street Settlement House, a nonprofit organization started by local social worker Dr. Valerie Radu to help others in need.
"Her health is better now, but when she had the heart attack she was worried about being able to have the camp for the kids, and we told her we would do what we could," Radu said.
Radu learned of Lawrence's efforts to have camp and created an online donation site to help her pay for it.
The goal is to raise $2,500 to buy supplies for the camp by May 20. Camp begins on May 28.
Radu also put out a request for volunteers and is expecting social work students from several area colleges to staff the camp and work with children on confidence and conflict resolution.
Tamra Flores, a Chattanooga State Community College social work student and intern with Grove Street Settlement House, will provide American Indian storytelling and help with gardening during the camp.
East Lake Courts resident Johnny Boswell, who took computer classes at Chattanooga State, will assist children in the computer lab and help prepare meals. John Creel, a retired news technician at WRCB-TV Channel 3, is helping children with academic tutoring.
Temple of Faith Deliverance Church of God in Christ also is providing volunteers.
A few camps have been funded by the Chattanooga Housing Authority, but no funds have come since 2008, Lawrence said.
Since then she has relied on volunteers.
She got Stan McCright, founder and chief operating officer of McCright and Associates, to donate about $1,500 a year that she uses to buy school uniforms for the children who attend camp. During some years she's been able to purchase shoes and book bags for attendees.
McCright, husband of Chattanooga Housing Authority Executive Director Betsy McCright, also helped the camp get a bus one year. The bus was used to take children from the Emma Wheeler Homes housing development to camp and to transport children on field trips.
Lee Trucking Co. brings snacks. Community people and East Lake Courts residents contribute to provide lunch.
And David Turner provided funding last year to keep the community center clean.
About 30 to 50 children ages 4 to 12 attend the summer camp.
Academic tutoring is scheduled in the mornings. Campers swim and play in the afternoons. And if there is transportation and funding, the children will take field trips. All attending are guaranteed breakfast, lunch and a snack.
Some parents commend Lawrence for her effort, but say they are afraid to let their children attend.
"There are gunshots out here every other day," said Lori Hendley, an East Lake Courts resident and mother of three children ages 12, 5 and 3.
Radu said she understands if some parents are hesitant, but she wanted to help Lawrence make the camp available for those who want it. The long-term goal is to extend the camp into an after-school program and provide care and academic support for children this fall, she said.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.
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 ...