Program helps Chambersburg kids keep learning

June 10, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - School, not the pool, is where more than 400 Chambersburg youths from ages 4 to 14 will voluntarily spend their summer vacation this year.

The Thaddaeus Stevens Elementary School on Hollywell Avenue opened its doors Monday at 8 a.m. for the first day of a nine-week summer prevention program known as BOPIC, or Building Our Pride in Chambersburg.

In its fifth year, the youth program provides educational and recreational activities - plus breakfast, lunch and a snack - for disadvantaged or at-risk youths who may otherwise be without supervision or activities.


"First of all, they're not running around. They're not on the streets," said Dave Shank, of Chambersburg, one of eight teachers in the program. "They're in a constructive environment here."

In the morning, the youths are instructed in basic academic courses like math, English and history. Bible lessons also are part of the schedule.

The classes give some of the youths a chance to catch up on or get a head start on their regular schoolwork, Shank said.

"I'm doing it because it's great experience and because I love working with children," said Becky Yerger, of Pittsburgh, an elementary education major at Edinboro University who also teaches in the program.

"They want to be here. Some of the kids wanted to come in today and do math," she added.

Yerger's college roommate, Jen Verno of Chambersburg, a social work major, also offered to teach this summer for the experience.

"This gives us a much better understanding of children," Verno said, who volunteered for a similar organization in Camden, N.J., last summer.

The days aren't all work.

During the afternoons, the youths participate in games and recreational activities, usually outside. They also take field trips and go on picnics. Several local and civic organizations provide programs.

The courses and activities focus around a different theme each week.

"A vast majority of the kids want to have fun, do the work, and cooperate," said Bryan Keith, of Carlisle, a journalism major at Shippensburg University who works as a teacher's aid.

A native of Chambersburg and a father of two, Keith said the youths benefit from the structure of the program, especially those who've faced discipline problems before.

BOPIC was formed by the Rev. W. Larry Johnson, minister at St. James AME Church, chaplain at Franklin County Prison and a Chambersburg councilman.

Johnson and his wife, Lisa Maria, moved to Chambersburg eight years ago from Philadelphia.

"We knew the kids needed something," Johnson said. "This program provides a positive environment, seven to eight hours a day, where kids can learn respect and gain some self-esteem. This was one way to help."

Other than a small stipend from the state Department of Education used to provide the meals, BOPIC depends on donations from the community to run the program, including paying the teachers, buying supplies and other basics, Johnson said.

The program also sponsors fund-raisers to try to reach its $40,000 a year budget.

"The hardest part is paying for it," Johnson said.

But the program's founder refuses to charge even a $1 per student enrollment fee because he fears it would limit attendance.

"It's free to everybody. Our philosophy is we don't turn anyone away," Johnson said.

Besides donating money, contributions of basic school supplies and games also are accepted.

Anyone interested in attending the program or donating can call BOPIC at 1-717-263-2100.

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