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We Cancerve partners with Aberdeen, Joppa schools to provide summer enrichment, meal service

Grace Callwood, the youth founder of the We Cancerve Movement Inc., poses with a homemade guitar she made during a session of virtual Camp Happy this summer. We Cancerve has partnered with Hall's Cross Roads and Magnolia Elementary School, offering four special sessions of Camp Happy, called 'Camp Happy Experiences,' to their students in July.
Grace Callwood, the youth founder of the We Cancerve Movement Inc., poses with a homemade guitar she made during a session of virtual Camp Happy this summer. We Cancerve has partnered with Hall's Cross Roads and Magnolia Elementary School, offering four special sessions of Camp Happy, called 'Camp Happy Experiences,' to their students in July. (We Cancerve/Provided Photo / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The COVID-19 pandemic might have caused radical changes to how Harford County youths are spending their summer, but 15-year-old Grace Callwood and her young cohorts in the nonprofit We Cancerve Movement Inc. are still working to provide multiple summer enrichment activities to children and take part in community service projects.

One such project is a virtual version of Camp Happy, which Callwood and We Cancerve started in 2015 to provide summer enrichment activities for children whose families were living in Anna’s House in Bel Air. Anna’s House, a Catholic Charities of Baltimore program, provides emergency shelter and transitional housing for families in need, according to its website.

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Camp Happy, which is free of charge, has since grown to serve children in foster care, as well as youths who are staying in a hospital and children experiencing homelessness. The camp activities, which are led by youth counselors, have gone online this summer, meaning any child with access to the internet can participate.

“If a kid is at home bored one day, they can sign up and find something fun to do,” Callwood said.

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Callwood, who is a rising sophomore at Edgewood High School and is a student in the International Baccalaureate magnet program, founded We Cancerve at age 7 after being diagnosed with cancer. She is the chair of the We Cancerve’s Board of Advisors, all comprised of youths ages 8 to 18, which works the adult Board of Directors on multiple programs.

“I didn’t want to let the pandemic stop us from hosting Camp Happy, but it’s also very important to me to keep the children safe,” said Callwood.

Virtual Camp Happy, which started after Harford County Public Schools let out for summer break in mid-June, has had participants from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Tennessee, Texas, even as far away as Asia.

“Being able to still serve children in need has made me and the other board members very happy,” Callwood said.

‘Camp Happy Experiences'

We Cancerve also has partnered with Hall’s Cross Roads Elementary School in Aberdeen and Magnolia Elementary in Joppa to give students summer activities through the Camp Happy Experiences program during July.

Sixty-three students who are going into first through third grade — as well as a few fourth graders who are siblings of the younger students — are participating in Camp Happy Experiences as part of the schools’ Think Big summer program.

The schools provided “extended learning opportunities” for students in subjects identified by school administrators. Reading is the focus for Think Big this summer, according to Christina Douglas, principal of Hall’s Cross Roads.

There are four modules within the summer curriculum, including STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), reading, writing and phonics. The modules are taught “synchronously,” meaning classes are held live online, Douglas said.

Hall’s Cross Roads and Magnolia both received Learning in Extended Academic Programs grants from the Maryland State Department of Education. One of the requirements of those grants involves having the schools partner with a community organization, according to Douglas.

Callwood approached school administrators before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year to discuss incorporating Camp Happy into the Think Big program, and they have since worked to host the camp in a virtual setting.

Camp Happy classes have been held each Thursday in July, with the fourth and final class Thursday, July 30. That class will cover cartooning. Prior classes covered topics such as the science of water, American Sign Language/speaking Mandarin Chinese, plus making origami figures, and all were taught by youth counselors including Callwood.

“They were all really bright and amazing kids,” said Callwood, who taught the first class on water. “It was a fun way to bring some of the experiences from Virtual Camp Happy [to the students].”

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Douglas praised having young people lead the virtual classes with the elementary students, as the children “are so engaged when the teenagers are working with them.”

“It truly is kids helping kids,” she said, noting an adult school staff member also is present during the classes.

Hall’s Cross Roads and Magnolia are designated as community schools, meaning school leaders seek ways to provide “additional learning opportunities and experiences” to students, beyond the classroom, as well as support students’ families who are in need, according to Douglas.

We Cancerve is among 35 to 40 community organizations and businesses that work with the school on “a plethora of projects and initiatives that meet the needs of our families,” Douglas said.

“Because of COVID-19, we realize that very few kids are going to summer camp, so we were looking forward to being able to provide this and bring all these kids happiness,” Callwood said of the virtual Camp Happy.

Grace Callwood, of Abingdon, is the founder of the We Cancerve Movement, which is working this summer to provide meals to children and families in the Aberdeen and Joppa areas. We Cancerve received a $1,500 contribution from Hormel Foods in support of its Brunch Box campaign.
Grace Callwood, of Abingdon, is the founder of the We Cancerve Movement, which is working this summer to provide meals to children and families in the Aberdeen and Joppa areas. We Cancerve received a $1,500 contribution from Hormel Foods in support of its Brunch Box campaign. (We Cancerve/Provided Photo / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Brunch Box

One way in which community schools such as Hall’s Cross Roads and Magnolia are working to support their students’ families during the pandemic is to provide meals. Both schools are partnering with We Cancerve for the organization’s Brunch Box program, in which volunteers pack boxes filled with meals for the families.

The boxes will come with nonperishable foods as well as fresh produce provided by First Fruits Farm of Baltimore County.

“They’re an amazing farm, and they love providing food for those in need,” Callwood said of First Fruits.

Members of the advisory board and their parents have reached out to other community institutions to obtain donations of food, such as Sami Bowling, who worked with her father and Bel Air United Methodist Church to acquire 180 boxes of pasta and 91 cans of tomato sauce. Another board member, Ashlee Brockwell, and her father obtained about 300 servings of Little Bites muffins and 100 pizza crusts from Bimbo Bakeries in Belcamp.

Hormel Foods also donated $1,500, which We Cancerve is using to purchase “lots and lots of food” for the boxes, according to Callwood.

“We were very, very appreciative of Hormel,” said Callwood, who noted that her organization has “received such great community support, even during this pandemic.”

People can visit We Cancerve’s website and its social media pages for more information on supporting the Brunch Box program, plus a shopping list is available via AmazonSmile.

The boxes will be packed at Hall’s Cross Roads on Aug. 7, and they will go to about 70 families affiliated with that school, according to Douglas. A date for packing at Magnolia Elementary is still being finalized, and We Cancerve expects to serve another 30 to 50 families through Magnolia, according to Callwood and her mother and business manager, T’Jae Ellis.

The boxes should hold six to eight meals per family, according to Douglas. The Brunch Box program is a supplement to the summer meal service provided by Harford County Public Schools, according to the news release.

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We Cancerve’s connections with businesses and other organizations, as well as the many grants the group has received, “allows us to bring these kinds of projects to our schoolhouse, because she has worked so diligently to have a huge network” of support, Douglas said of Callwood.

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“Her work and her philanthropy really allows our students to benefit and our families to benefit,” Douglas added.

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