Esther Cheung, Esther Park, Class of 2017, Davis Project of Peace, Arts and Writing

Recent alumnae, Esther Cheung ’17 and Esther Park ’17 may have left the Pomona campus in May, but they are still giving back to the Claremont community. This summer, the sociology majors co-directed an art and writing camp for youth in close partnership with the nonprofit Uncommon Good.

In 2015, Cheung and Park first launched a two-week art and writing summer camp for middle school students. Intended to be a one-time event, the overwhelmingly positive feedback encouraged them to resume the summer program in 2016.  With a round of funding from the Davis Foundation, the camp, now in its third year, hosted 45 middle school students this July from the Weekly Writing Workshops (3W) after-school chapter in Claremont.

Channeling their love for reading, writing and mentoring youth, Cheung and Park focused this year on mentoring future leaders for the camp. Cheung and Park managed the budget, helped recruit teachers and helped out during the final showcase. In addition, they provided direction and advice for the new camp directors, who do most of the day-to-day work with the students.

“At Pomona College, we talk about creative and critical thinking a lot, but it's not always clear exactly what we mean by that and why it's important,” says Park. “Ultimately these skills don't mean much if they never extend beyond classroom walls. I think a large part of our vision for our program is that students learn those skills and translate that into change that they want to see in their communities,” says Park.

Through the project, local middle school students have the opportunity to take four different art and writing classes taught by local artists and writing instructors. Previous classes have included photography, acting, poetry, screenwriting, drawing, songwriting and puppetry. The camp culminates in a final showcase where students present the projects that they have worked on over the course of the two weeks to their friends and families.

Also responsible for securing funding for the project, Cheung and Park were awarded a $10,000 Projects for Peace grant from the Davis Foundation earlier this year. The competitive grant is awarded to undergraduate grassroots projects carried out over the summer that contribute to building peace.

“Before the grant, we had spent the past year fundraising for our second year of the summer camp, which was really difficult and exhausting,” says Cheung. “It was important for us to be able to pay our teaching staff stipends that reflected the hard work that goes into teaching.” In addition, the grant helps cover the cost of class materials, lunch and snacks, facilities and other incidentals.

Staff are instrumental to the success of the 3W after-school programs and summer camp.  While Cheung and Park have gotten to know many of the students throughout the past couple of years, the staff from Uncommon Good have built the relationships with students and their families that brings new students to the programs.

“The parents of our students do a lot to support the program as well,” says Cheung. “Without their help in driving the students to class, organizing lunches, etc., the summer camp would not be possible.”