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CHAW Summer: An Interview with Camp Director Extraordinaire, Leslie Mansour

February 13, 2015

It may still feel like winter, but here at CHAW, we’re busily preparing for one of our most favorite times of the year: Summer Camp! This year, we are particularly excited to be offering camps for all ages, from Pre-K all the way up through high school. Each program will invite, challenge, and inspire the creative spirit in campers and counselors alike, and we can’t wait for long, sunny days–and the wonderful energy of kids–to envelop the building. What will your CHAW Summer look like? Find out more andREGISTER NOW on our website for Early Childhood, Youth, Middle School, and High School programs. And read on to hear straight from camp director Leslie Mansour what makes summer at CHAW so…well, CHAWsome!

1. What is special about CHAW camp?

The experience, the community, the art–really experiencing art in the type of environment we create.  The staff care so much, all the way down to the 13-year-old classroom interns.  And the relationships that are developed are significant.  It’s not just about getting through the day for us: it’s about the relationships you build and the things you learn about yourself and art.  That feeling of belonging is huge.  You’re accepted for who you are.  The staff work one-on-one not only to teach art, but also how to be a good friend, a better listener, and how to take ownership of choices–it’s who they are.  Not a lot of camps hold kids to that kind of responsibility.  We take the time to sit down and have a real dialogue about important things–I mean, they’re KIDS!  Of course they don’t know how to sit still–they shouldn’t be punished, they should be taught.  Everything at CHAW is a learning opportunity.  We love the kids–we learn as much from them as they learn from us–to be patient, to be curious, to give and take.  Children have value.  How they feel matters.  Their opinion, their voice matters–they have a voice at CHAW camp.

To us, it’s not “just” an arts camp, because art is life.  Everything we do should focus and have art incorporated into it.  So kids are not just coming in to learn about art: they’re learning about life, about themselves, and about how to fit into the world genuinely and not lose sight of that.  Art keeps the focus on those authentic feelings of identity and the community you belong to–and art provides a lens on how you can change the world with that perspective.

2. What are you most excited about?

Oh, wow. Some of the new camp offerings–getting back together with staff–having a great time planning activities and field trips–seeing returning campers and meeting new ones…there’s so much!

With the new camps, I’m really excited for the programming we’re doing for teens (middle and high school).  I feel that this is an underserved group, and sometimes the offerings out there don’t allow this age group to be as mature as they want to be treated.  CHAW’s new offerings give them the opportunity to feel like they are part of a more collaborative setting and environment as opposed to going to camp to be a “kid.”  These are intensives, institutes, workshops, training–a step further into a more adult world because they are becoming adults, but they don’t have to let go of all the youthfulness, either.

3. Favorite camp memories?

Everything always feels like such a blur–this year, I’m gonna write ’em down daily!  But watching the kids really finish their pieces–when they take a step back and feel good about what they’ve created…trips to the splash park by Navy Yard, where the kids are so happy and a lot of friendships are made…and just riding in the van, singing repeat-after-me songs. It’s so much fun to see them get excited and loud…but instead of screaming, they’re singing!

4. What might surprise people about CHAW Summer camp?

We collaborate with a lot of other artists and organizations throughout the summer.  For example, last summer we invited a gourmet Egyptian chef to come because we were studying Egypt.  She was able to talk about the country and share Egyptian lemonade and donuts, which gave the kids such a great perspective. It would surprise people to know that kids aren’t just coming into the building, doing art, going on trips, and going home, but rather getting exposed to all kinds of different artists, perspectives, and lenses on the topics they’re learning about.  Last year we also had a comic art installation, and one of the artists came in to talk and answer questions.  The kids could even interact and draw on the installation, and their work was displayed throughout the summer.

There’s something really special about all the connections that happen with guest visitors, and the tie-ins with other cultures as well as with local people, organizations, and exhibits.

5. What’s your favorite thing about summer?

I don’t know what just happened, but I just started tearing up!  There’s something about summer at CHAW that feels like home. There’s so much excitement; there are new friendships, new opportunities to learn–and a sense of freedom in the building even though days are structured and organized.  It’s a breath of fresh air and the days are long and anything feels possible.  It’s like being back with old friends.  That’s especially true for me, since I’m working in a completely different capacity in the summer and can spend substantive time with the other counselors and the kids in a really meaningful way .  Kids are so funny and have such humorous, insightful comments, and to watch them change and grow throughout the summer–it makes your heart hurt a little, just swell up, thinking about all of the possibilities of who they can be.  CHAW is just the vehicle and the meeting point–they’re the ones who are doing it, they’re transforming themselves.