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Carah Austin, 16
Carah Austin, 16
August 17, 2010

It’s not unusual for teens to spend their summers at camp. But Jacob Baldwin and Carah Austin have done something different — they’ve been running their own camps to address very different needs in their communities.

This year, Jacob, 16, of Carmel, started Operation Safeguard, a disaster-preparedness camp. It grew out of his involvement with Project K.I.D., a national project that creates play areas for children involved in disasters.

By comparison, Carah, 16, of Whiteland, is a camp veteran. This is the fourth summer for her History Makers of the Future camp, a daylong program for elementary students to experience the rich history of Madison, Ind.

Both Jacob and Carah were 2009 Power of Children award winners, recognized by The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis for their service to others, and they have put a lot of thought into their camps. Jacob came across Project K.I.D. several years ago when he was looking for inspiration for his Eagle Scout project. “I was hoping to do something more than just the generic project,” he explained. “I like to be effective in the community and work where there actually is a need.”

Jacob was introduced to Lenore Ealy of Carmel, who co-founded Project K.I.D. after Hurricane Katrina when she saw that emergency responders had no plan for caring for children whose parents were busy either helping emergency crews or finding resources for their own families. “Dr. Ealy is one of two women who went down to the south looking to help and they discovered that FEMA and most other large disaster response organizations don’t pay any special attention to children of disasters,” he said.

For his Scout project, Jacob created a portable “play care” center to cordon off a safe area for children. But he remained involved in Project K.I.D., wanting to find a way to involve more children in disaster preparedness.

“I had the idea to do something really big that gets youth involved, a challenge of some kind or just some kind of big event that really gets the word out and maybe has a high impact,” he said.

For Carah, the inspiration for History Makers started first with Find a Book a Home, a book collection project she founded to thank King’s Daughters’ Hospital in Madison for helping her battle spinal meningitis when she was young. “History Makers kind of branched off that because I wanted to continue to help the little kids with their educations.”

While both camps were initiated by teens, they differ in many ways. Operation Safeguard is a weeklong camp in Indianapolis designed to train middle- and high-school students to be prepared to respond to disasters in their communities. History Makers is a one-day camp to help incoming fourth-graders in Whiteland learn more about state history, as the state Department of Education requires.

For History Makers, Carah and about 10 other mentors take 60 students to Madison to visit many of its well-preserved historic sites. The students are selected by their third-grade teachers, who determine who would most benefit from the trip, which starts early on a June morning.

But preparations start long before that. Carah spends much of the year before planning the itinerary, finding corporate sponsors and donors to cover expenses, and recruiting other teens and adults to serve as guides and mentors. In Madison, the kids are split up into smaller groups and visit numerous historic sites and engage in a full day of activities. “They seem to have a good time, and I know I have a good time,” she said. “I know a lot of them are a lot more confident now because they got chosen for the program, and it really helped them get a head start on their Indiana history.”

While Operation Safeguard stayed in one place, it kept campers busy, too. Based on the Be Ready Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., it involved training from emergency workers. But Jacob also added a community relations component so that campers could “pay it forward.”

Thoughout the week, campers were taught to set goals and then to come up with plans to prepare their own communities for disaster in some way, such as by disseminating first-aid kits. Jacob said one eighth-grader came up with a stellar plan: “to find the $25,000 or so that it would cost to do another Operation Safeguard.”

Like Carah, Jacob had to find funds and support for his camp. Park Tudor donated facilities, and the state Division of Homeland Security, Marion County Emergency Management Agency and The Children’s Museum also contributed.

Both Carah and Jacob say that they have gained a lot from their projects.

Carah says she has better personal skills because of History Makers. “It’s definitely helped me with planning things and becoming more organized,” she said. She also said that her involvement has convinced her that she wants to work with kids, possibly as a pediatrician.

Jacob also benefited from his project. He said his communications skills have improved, primarily due to his efforts to get donations. Additionally, he said it’s put him in touch with people he admires. “I’ve met some of the role models of my life,” he said.

But the biggest satisfaction is helping to prepare younger children for the challenges that lay ahead, whether in schoolwork or life, they agreed.

“It was rewarding that the partners and I have been able to inspire the kids to really believe that they could make a difference,” Jacob said.

Contributing to this story were Matthew Stubbs, 17, assistant editor, Nyssa Qiao, 10, reporter. 

Copyright 2010 Y-Press 

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