In just three minutes of conversation, Quintazzia and Ashley, both 13, learned they have more in common than their age. For starters, both like to swim and eat chocolate cake, they learned from interviewing each other. Each girl then took turns standing and telling 13 fellow day campers about the other.
“Quintazzia wants to be a singer,” Ashley said, before Quintazzia reported, “and Ashley wants to be a biomedical engineer.”
This week, members of the group ranging from 12 to 14 years in age are learning something about themselves each morning and about serving others each afternoon. They are attending the tenth annual Camp Tikkun Olam, also known as Philanthropy Camp, a joint effort of the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga and the city’s First Church of the Nazarene. A third organization, the Bethlehem Center in Alton Park, has more recently gotten involved.
“Part of the experience is that the children meet and get to know children and adults from groups they might not otherwise, and from communities within Chattanooga that, in the past, might have been uncomfortable with the other,” said Eric Johnson, First Church of the Nazarene senior pastor.
“Tikkun Olam is Hebrew for ‘repair the world,’ and the idea is that the kids learn to serve and are comfortable with service, and that they grow up thinking it’s normal to work and collaborate with those who may be different from themselves.”
The week began at WUTC-FM, the National Public Radio station on campus, with a tour led by station manager Brian Lane. After passing through the control room, a recording studio and a maze of electronics, the campers were led to a classroom in the UTC Library by Will Davis, WUTC producer and outreach manager. The children had just met each other about an hour earlier, and Davis organized them into teams of two or three so they could take turns interviewing and giving a brief report on each other.
Upon learning that Keoni, 14, likes playing video games and wants to be a marine biologist, Davis admitted he’s never visited the Tennessee Aquarium and asked the boy if he has.
“Really?” Keoni said. “I’ve been to the aquarium many times. It’s really fun—if you like fish.”
The experience was exactly how Philanthropy Camp is supposed to start, Johnson said.
“This is the second time in our 10-year history to open at WUTC,” Johnson said. “Other times, we’ve visited a television station, or the newspaper, but the purpose is always for the children to know more about themselves and to learn a way of knowing more about others.
“From here, they’re going to Mitzvah Synagogue and then to the Bethlehem Center today. Tomorrow, they will take what they’ve learned about how to conduct and record an interview, and they will gather oral histories about the civil rights movement, including some of the challenges of growing up Jewish.”
By the time camp is over, campers will have helped with work projects in the homes of local residents; learned about homelessness and food banks; contributed to an environmental clean-up project; and built bridges to people of other generations or with physical or intellectual disabilities. They’ll even visit the local United Way to learn what motivates people to give and about the kinds of needs to be funded.
“It’s not a religious camp, but it has a religious component in that we are modeling comfortableness with others in different faith communities,” Johnson said. “And philanthropy has built-in the notion that ‘I’m doing something good to benefit others,’ and through Philanthropy Camp, our children learn that we choose to act with compassion toward others.”