Bully Busters programs make summer fun for city kids

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Tue., Aug. 2, 2011
Sisters Giovanna, 7, and Tiana, 9, do some coloring at the Summer Jam and Learn program in Norwich. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Sisters Giovanna, 7, and Tiana, 9, do some coloring at the Summer Jam and Learn program in Norwich. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

An upstairs room at the Salvation Army on Franklin Square has been transformed into an oasis of activity and fun for city kids again this summer. “Summer Jam and Learn,” sponsored by the Norwich Bully Busters, in partnership with several other city agencies, gives kids who otherwise may be roaming the streets during summer days a safe place to hang out.

“It’s a safe alternative to keep kids busy and occupied, and hopefully teach them some useful skills,” said Salvation Army social services worker Georgia Lavalle. While they’re there, kids can try their hand at using a sewing machine, as well as play video games, read or make crafts. Speakers come by weekly to give presentations on their careers.

It’s the fourth year for the program, and Bully Busters coordinator Debbie Kievits said it’s intended to target kids who otherwise couldn’t afford summer camp or other enrichment programs. “The only requirement is they have to come in with a good attitude,” she said. “There’s a lot of character-building education involved.”

This year, about 30 children between fifth and 11th grade show up on a given day. Some spend the whole day, and some only stay a couple of hours, she said.

Nancy Molzan, who teaches a weekly class on sewing, said that using a sewing machine is a new experience for most of the kids. “I think the boys are actually more interested than the girls,” she said.

Kievits said that the help of the Salvation Army in providing the space, along with a number of other coalition partners of Norwich Youth and Family Services, has made the program a reality. They’ve even had a visit from the Worship Skateboard shop in Greenville.

Meanwhile, up the street at United Congregational Church, a teenager on stage pretends to be a cat, meowing, purring and “licking” a hand. Someone in the audience shouts out, “Switch!” and suddenly the teen is transformed into a rapper, grooving down the street. But just for a few moments – with another “Switch!” she becomes a mime.

About 15 teens and pre-teens are participating in Bully Busters’ two-week drama camp, directed by SUNY Purchase theater technology student David Smith, a graduate of Norwich Free Academy, with help from a few teenage interns. The young actors “all work really well together,” said Smith.

Day-long sessions here include drama games like charades, along with improvisational acting and stage work – even some sessions on stage combat. Campers also learn about different types of theater and have had visitors from the Spirit of Broadway Theater around the corner, where Smith served a summer internship in stage management. Smith said that the Spirit of Broadway has even offered to do a workshop with the young thespians.

The two-week program is building towards a final theatrical presentation, written collaboratively by Smith and the participants and titled “Hustle the Beat.” They’ll perform the play for family and friends at the session’s end.

“It [uses] all the kids’ ideas. They thought of the main characters,” said Smith. Since the play is set in the 1970s, “they had to do research for that.”

Summer Jam and Learn continues through Aug. 18, while drama camp concludes Aug. 6.


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