Circle round the square

Camp-goer Constance Blackstone shows off a collage she made featuring a cool two-headed dragon during the Circle Round the Square summer camp at Hocking College last Friday. Photo by Conor Morris.

Dozens of youths have the run of the Hocking College campus this summer at Nelsonville’s annual Circle Round the Square summer camp.

The 53 young people – in grades six through 12, mostly coming from the Nelsonville-York school district – will spend almost four weeks in the free program learning multiple art and design forms in a classroom setting, including photography, painting, ceramics and computer illustration (which all comply with state teaching standards). The campers also get breakfast, lunch and a snack, along with plenty of time to play and opportunities for field trips to attractions in the area.

This is the first time that Circle Round the Square has been hosted by Hocking College, a move that founder Barb Campagnola calls an “incredible” step for the program. Campagnola, who directs the CRS program, also directs the new nonprofit Art and Soul Collaborative (which runs CRS now after years under the banner of Paper Circle in Nelsonville).

Because of the move to Hocking, Campagnola said last Friday that the teachers and students have gained access to many great resources at Hocking, including a computer lab and arts classroom spaces. Hocking’s café and Hocking’s Student Center. Hocking once a week is also providing an additional class for campers in the area of the disciplines the community college teaches. Campers have gone to a culinary class; learned how to fish; and will have other opportunities in the coming weeks.

In one of the classrooms, the children worked with instructor and local artist and gallery owner Ann Judy to create small pottery “shrines” to ideas and concepts that mean something to them. Judy pointed out one young girl’s shrine to her grandmother, with a calendar designed into it to pay tribute to a phrase her grandmother uses often, “yesterday, today, tomorrow.”

“It’s about personal experiences but it’s also about future dreams,” Judy said. “It can also be about an icon, like a pop star; it’s whatever you want to do in this shrine.”

Just like many families in Nelsonville and Athens County in general, the children’s lives are not free from difficulties, Campagnola said.

She and teachers with Circle Round the Square noted that it’s not uncommon to hear about hunger at home from some of the children participating in the program. “There’s a lot of food insecurity in the population, and so this is a real treat that they get to go here and fill their plate,” she said.

Marae Puia, director of operations for Circle Round the Square, explained that the children are chosen after their families submit an application to the program. Many of the children accepted into the program come from low-income families (usually about half of the participants are returning campers from the year prior, as well), Puia said. Campagnola said that roughly 76 percent of the children attending the camp qualify for the free-and-reduced lunch program found at area schools.

Some of the children have learning or other disabilities, which is why it’s important for several counselors from Hopewell Health Centers to be present during the camp, according to Campagnola.

Jesse Woodard, a licensed professional counselor with Hopewell in Athens, said that he’s excited to be at the camp this year. The classes are helping the children meet personal development goals through learning about the arts, Woodward said.

“What these activities are doing is something all kids and even all adults and people could really benefit from,” Woodard said.

Teacher Judy noted that her many years with the program (which started in 2005) have taught her a lot.

“You never assume anything; you can’t assume that kids have bedtimes; you can’t assume that they ate breakfast this morning; you can’t assume anything,” she said.

Despite those struggles, the program has a significant focus on positive self-affirmation. To that end, teacher Josh Birnbaum – a photographer and instructor in Ohio University’s school of visual communication – has been teaching the campers about photography and editing through a project called “my future self,” where they photograph themselves and then edit the photos to turn themselves into vision of who they want to be when they are older. He said he and the campers go into Nelsonville and elsewhere with the cameras, and they’re even allowed to take the cameras home with them to work on their assignments.

“That’s the value of the program,” Birnbaum explained. “The kids get to come to this place where they are valued and where their basic needs are met, where everybody loves each other and they get to express themselves, and they get to share some things about themselves, when in other parts of their lives they might not have all of that.”

One of the big activities for the children this year is creating the marketing and advertising for a fictional product that will better the world, Campagnola said. One team of students in particular has been developing branding and other materials for Circle Round the Square, she added. One of the mottos that the children came up with was “Friends, food, fun, free.”

Teachers Cassidy Brauner, Abel Jarrahi, Patty Marcus and Sadie Meade all noted in a shared interview last week how exciting it’s been to watch the campers grow and make friends with one another as the camp goes on. Meade recalled watching the children learn how to use Adobe Illustrator to create logos for their fictional products earlier in the day. 

“The kids ended up helping each other without us even asking,” she said.

CIRCLE ROUND THE SQUARE also employs several paid interns who themselves once went through the program when they were younger. Two of the interns – Stefani O’Neill and Amelia Myers – have been friends since they attended the camp together as kids. Myers said she was inspired by the program from a young age to pursue a career in photography. Since then, she’s gotten a degree from Hocking College and is now pursuing a degree from OU’s School of Visual Communication.

“I always had these teachers… who always made me feel super loved and super cared for… who encouraged creativity,” she said of the camp program.

One of the campers, a young boy named Troy, showed this reporter a collage he had made. It features all sorts of things he likes, including a big homage to Spiderman (he loves the latest Spiderman movies with Tom Holland – he said he got to meet the actor once at a convention). He said he hopes to be an actor when he’s older.

Another great part about the program is that Troy’s collage, along with all of the other artwork created by the children during Circle Round the Square, will be showcased at the Majestic Galleries in Nelsonville during the Final Friday event in July. The monthly gallery walk is free and open to the public.

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