There are experiences that are extremely special in one’s life. Camp Catanese is one of those experiences that I am proud to be apart of. For the last three years, myself and others, that I’ve grown up going to summer camp with, gather in Phoenix, Arizona to help support an exceptional friend and teacher, Jason Catanese, and his former students. Together we inspire youth to not only be first generation high school graduates, but to be first generation college graduates. Camp Catanese is a STEM college access camp that allows students to witness and experience first-hand what college is like and learn how they can become a future graduate. Through love, education, and motivation, our staff is being transformed and inspired by the dedicated students that undergo a week long unique experience at Arizona State University.
In our first year, 150 students experienced Camp Catanese, attributing camp to being the most inspirational week of their year, helping them to strive for better grades, participate in more extracurricular activities, fill out college applications, and start to envision careers that they otherwise wouldn’t have dreamt about. This past year, we had the opportunity to serve over 220 campers and saw our first cohort of seniors graduate! Every single member of our senior cohort is enrolled in colleges around the country, from Arizona State University to Northwestern University to Phoenix College! This statistic is huge because before these campers attended the first year of Camp Catanese in 2016, only fifty percent of those campers believed they could attend college. Camp Catanese helped sparked belief that they could not only graduate high school but they WOULD go to college. In addition, 100% of our campers are on track to graduate high school, in spite of some of the high schools that our campers come from being known as “drop-out factories.” Our camp is designed to inspire and bring out the best in everyone. Because of endless support, hundreds of high school students in Phoenix now believe that they will finish their high school education, attend college, graduate, and be successful.
When surveyed at the close of our camp season, our campers reported the following:
- 26% Agreed and 73% Strongly Agreed that at camp, they learned the steps they can be taking now to prepare for college.
- 23% Agreed and 76% Strongly Agreed that they were committed to taking the steps necessary to get into college.
- 100% said Camp Catanese helped them feel more prepared for college.
Our counselors taught sessions where students extracted DNA from strawberries, built robots, learned to code, practiced taking vital signs, and so much more, helping spread our counselor’s love of learning to our campers. Not only did our campers leave envisioning themselves in careers in STEM and other professions, they are already talking about the day when they will get to be the counselors of our camp and help give back to the community that has given them so much.
When asked what the most important thing they learned was, campers said they gained valuable information about applying for scholarships, financial aid, and more information about college. Some of the other thoughts they shared were:
- “Regardless of your situation, you can make your dream come true.”
- “I learned that there will always be someone I can reach out to”
- “I learned to believe in myself and what I do now can and will affect me in the future.”
- “It is important to take action now and you can accomplish whatever you want as long as you set your mind to it.”
- “That it is important to have a strong network, to let the people in our lives know how much we care for them.”
The entire camp week we laughed, cried, and saw what happens when an entire community comes together through pure love. On the last night of camp, we had a graduation ceremony where each graduated senior wore his or her caps and gowns. The entire camp gave standing ovation after standing ovation when each senior’s name was called, something that was unlike anything I have ever experienced. Campers were crying with pride as they walked for their parents, siblings, and friends that never had the opportunity to graduate. We surprised each senior with a $1,000 scholarship for college that night, which led them all to tears once again because of the belief the staff and the community has given them
Moments like this happened throughout the week, where our campers showed us selflessness, kindness, and love.
To learn more about Camp Catanese, check out this video!