This week I interviewed Christine Brayfield, a full-time school teacher in Boston, a graduate of Springfield College and our Camp Director for a new partnership program we’re running in Springfield called LACES.
(Our new hero) Christine and I talked about how LACES started, where it is today and where she sees it going in the future. Read on to learn about a program that is making a tremendous impact on a community that desperately needs its help.
Christine Brayfield (right) and a LACES student at Berkshire Outdoor Center in 2012
BOC: So LACES, huh? Like shoes and corsets?
CB: No, no, nothing like that at all. It stands for Leaders in Academics, Community Engagement and Service and is a program that reaches across all the areas of a kid’s life: school, after-school and summertime. In Springfield especially, there is a need for consistent oversight, accountability and enthusiasm in the lives of school kids.
BOC: How did LACES begin and for what purpose?
CB: Well, in the spring of 2005, Ted France (Associate Professor of Physical Education at Springfield College), Dale Allen (former Director for Community Relations at Springfield College) and Brenda Marsian (former Director of Development at Springfield College…now working next to you!) began this program in order to connect Springfield College students with the needs of the youth of Springfield.
Springfield College prides itself on community engagement and this is by far their best idea. Back in 2005, it was called Springfield Leaders of Tomorrow and gave the youth of Springfield an opportunity to spend 2 weeks on a college campus.
One Leader in Academics and Community Engagement through Service in action!
BOC: Wow, so it’s changed a lot over the years, hasn’t it?
CB: Yes, well, it started as a program that was focused on providing experiences to Springfield College students with the added benefit of positively impacting children in Springfield. The original purpose was for Springfield College students to create a such an effective, desirable program that it would be replicated in cities all across the country.
As we got into delivering the program itself each year, we made some changes to improve our impact and others so that we could continue to support the kids regardless of how much funding we got or who it came from. This is how we came to partner with Springfield Parks and Recreation, too.
Over the past two years, Parks and Recreation has come to our aid with funding from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. With these funds, we were able to keep the program running, providing jobs and student scholarships after Springfield College’s funding tapered off.
As the life of that grant has dwindled, Ted and Brenda put their heads together and got Berkshire Outdoor Center involved. The idea was that you could help us by applying for a new grant to keep the program running, but that you could also learn the ropes and address the program’s original purpose of duplicating LACES in other communities in need, like Pittsfield.
So between you guys, some funding from Springfield Parks and Rec and a smaller grant from the game company Hasbro, we’re able to offer 75 Springfield kids another LACES summer experience this year. You should hear the relief and enthusiasm from the kids and parents about this!
So since all of that came through earlier this year, your BOC staff have been working with Parks and Rec staff and teachers in after-school programs. Children who participate in those sessions get to go up to Becket for a retreat each semester. Now that they’ve done a couple of them, they’re getting to be a really big deal!
LACES + BOC 4ever!
BOC: Tell us what’s at the heart of LACES. Why is it so important?
CB: LACES gives our Springfield youth the opportunity to meet and build close relationships with other students in the city in addition to working with committed adults who mentor them year-round. Students develop leadership skills, communication skills and trust among one another, all things that can help them achieve greater success as they grow.
BOC: This summer, you’ll return as the director for the 5 week Summer LACES Program. Tell us about that!
CB: Yes, it’s so exciting! During week one, our 75 students will be placed into groups based on their age. Students will work to build relationships through name games, small and large group games and other exercises.
During week two, we’ll introduce trust activities including prop initiatives, activities that require a relationship with others in their group and with their staff members.
Working together to get the job done!
Week three will be focused on communication and students will spend time at Springfield College using the low ropes course. This week celebrates two things: being on a college campus (something exciting and new to many children in Springfield,) and that after building relationships and trust, students will be able to successfully navigate challenges while building camaraderie with their friends and our staff.
This leads us into week four, which is all about positive risk taking. Here we will take the students to up to Becket for the high ropes course! Students will take a positive risk to step outside their comfort zone and climb! If you think being on a college campus is an eye opener for them, wait until you see their faces the first time the encounter the high ropes.
This is what we’ve been working toward!
This is what we’ve been working toward! During our final week, we will put their newly-minted leadership skills to the test. Students will identify a community based problem and will work together to solve it. Then, they will create a professional presentation that they will share with the rest of the group as well as invited friends and family members.
BOC: What are the biggest and best outcomes from the LACES summer program?
CB: The biggest and best outcomes of our program by far is seeing graduates and hearing about their accomplishments. These kids really go on to achieve! It also gives me so much joy when I hear students say they want to come back and work as a LACES counselor. It is after they tell me this that I realize we have done our job by creating a leader in each of these children who in turn will mentor their peers.
Support, camaraderie, personal challenge and fun intersect here!
BOC: What is your favorite aspect of the program? And now that you’re no longer a Springfield College student, what keeps you coming back?
CB: Honestly, I cannot think of a better way to spend my summer than back with the youth in Springfield. I have realized that these children have a significant need and while they may not realize the opportunities in front of them at the moment, I know they will look back on their time with us as good, helpful and positive on some future day.
BOC: What were the biggest highlights from last summer?
CB: We had a great summer last summer. One of the most memorable things for the kids was probably the day we took them on a field trip to the ocean. Springfield isn’t far from the coast but so many of the kids had never even seen it, let alone gotten in, so we ordered a school bus and made it happen.
It was a hectic-but-great day! We put our toes in the sand, some of the kids waded in, we played a little beach-side mini golf and ate ice cream. Teachers who work with the kids who went on that trip still report that the ocean is a dominant theme in their creative writing assignments, so we know that a trip that is typical for a lot of us made a significant impact and really broadened their horizons. That feels good.
BOC: What are you excited about for this coming summer?
CB: I am very excited to build on the partnership we have created with everyone at Berkshire Outdoor Center. I think it is amazing that we have a similar vision and want to provide these children with the best year-round experience. I am happy to have returning staff back at our summer program because we can build on what we accomplished last year, make changes and provide new experiences for everyone.
As you guys already know, we’re building on the success of last year’s ocean visit and are instituting Friday Fundays, which means we’re taking the kids somewhere new every Friday!
BOC: Where would you like to see LACES in 10 years?
CB: Many of our staff from the past couple years are now working in youth programs, in the teaching field or in the youth development/counseling field. It would be wonderful to be able to expand LACES and allow our previous staff to establish the program in their district, town/city or state.
We have created the vision and it is up to us to continue to deliver the program to youth, both inside and outside of Springfield. I’m so hopeful that our partnership with Berkshire Outdoor Center will really expedite that outcome. It’s exciting.
Changing Lives for Good…