On July 25–26, 2018 the Smart Museum collaborated with Lurie Children’s Hospital on a special “Perception Party” family day at the hospital. We recently connected with Scott Zagalak to learn more about how Lurie uses partnerships to create summer camp experiences for patients and their families.
Tell us about Camp Urban Explorers. When did the Lurie Children’s summer camp program first start at the hospital? What was the biggest motivation that drove the creation of the program?
The thought of a summer camp first surfaced when the Lurie Children moved to a new building with bigger classrooms, where Nina Li Commes, a University of Chicago Summer Links intern, led groups of kids in songs and chants to work up a bit of enthusiasm for the enrichment activities we provided. That sparked an idea for me and my colleague Pat Ebervein—why couldn’t we provide an experience that many of our kids were missing out on by being in the hospital? For some of them, the activities in the classroom here is the their one and only experience that comes close to a summer camp.
So Pat and I roped in two of our education liaisons, Meghan Liston and Rebecca Manderschied, to form a crew to get the ball rolling. And “roll” we did! We probably spent 10 or more hours planning, ordering, decorating, and coordinating every day in the first year. This past summer was our second, only having started it in 2017. We are still learning and exploring different themes to keep it fresh and exciting for our campers.
Who participates in Camp Urban Explorers? What do you hope have they get out of it?
Camp Urban Explorers is open to all inpatient children, generally aged 5- to 18-years old, and their siblings. If children were not allowed to come down to camp, we had a team of camp counselors that would go bedside with various activities, so no one was left out.
We have a number of different goals. First and foremost, we want the kids to feel normal. If the kids were not here at the hospital, many of them would be attending a summer camp. We want to bring that missed experience to the children. Besides, Camp is a great distraction from all of the medical procedures happening and leaves the children with a positive memory of being here. It also provides parents with necessary alone time to take care of things and relax while knowing their child is being engaged. Finally, at the core, we are teachers in the school services department, so we want camp to be educational. Each week, we explore a different theme and invite various outside community organizations to enhance the learning experience, such as the Smart Museum of Art.
For Lurie, what are the benefits of partnering with local organizations for the summer camp? What do you look for in partners and what drew you to connect with the Smart Museum this summer?
Local organizations offer unique experiences that we alone cannot provide; they are experts in their field. Visiting local organizations also exposes our patients and their families to activities and programs around the city which they can visit once their stay here is complete. We were drawn to the Smart Museum because of the incredible family programs you have offered in the past, and we felt it could be a great collaboration. Many of our families had not heard of the Smart Museum of Art before, and we felt like they were missing out on an amazing organization!
Was there a particular popular art-making activity on the days that the Smart Museum of Art’s team visited?
Yes! First, the patients and their families loved watching the docent led tour of the Smart Museum followed by making perception goggles. The kids loved being creative and being able to see the world through different colored lenses. Camp is eight weeks long, and even during our last week of camp, we had kids requesting to make some goggles.
Can you share some memorable moments from the event?
Pat had a doctor stop her in the hall to tell her she felt summer camp was a critical turning point in a child’s healing process—that was a gift beyond measure. I had a student who I worked with tie-dying, and she made two pillowcases and three shirts—she tried to make them matching for herself and two of her friends. She told me tie-dying was the most fun she ever had during an inpatient stay.
There are many more great stories from camp, and I feel this last one sums it all up. There was one kid who was supposed to get discharged, but he asked his doctors and parents if he could stay longer because he didn’t want to miss a week of camp.