Camp Manitowa, Brothers Lazaroff Offer Camp Ferguson to Riverview Gardens Students

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Buy a latke, help a camper. - Micah Usher
Micah Usher
Buy a latke, help a camper.

"I think the world of him and his brother. In addition to being, in my opinion, the hottest band in town right now, they're great people," Brown says. "When he decided to do this year's Hanukkah party, it was just an honor that he chose Camp Ferguson to receive some of the proceeds that they generated.

"This year, with everything going on in the community, it was hard to even want to do a Hanukkah party. But the Jews have always been central in the world of civil rights," Lazaroff says. "It was a really nice way for the Jewish community to do something positive."

As Grabel notes, many north St. Louis County districts had delayed starting the new school year amid the unrest that followed Michael Brown's death which prompted Camp Manitowa to informally invite affected students for a retreat. The idea eventually changed into something more formal and meaningful in October.

"We eventually partnered up with Riverview Gardens school district and Westview Middle School, in particular, and hosted twenty kids who all lived in the Canfield Green apartment complex where Michael Brown lived and was shot," Grabel says. "They needed a break. All of them were doing things they had never done before -- fishing, swimming in a lake, doing a zip line."

"Sometimes getting away can bring focus to a chaotic situation," Andy Brown says.

"One of the most impactful things for me that whole weekend was to literally hear a 12 or 13-year-old kid tell you that every night they hear gunshots and helicopters, and there are media trucks stationed outside their house and at the end of their street, and really just the chaotic nature of the way they were living at the time," Brown adds. "The ability to get away to a setting that they'd never been in before really helped them regroup a little bit.

"And it was really interesting to us because unlike our normal camp population, the majority of these kids not only had never been out to the country to stay in a cabin, they had never been outside of Ferguson or St. Louis County, never spent a night away from their family," Brown continues. "So it was a really, really powerful weekend."

Camp Manitowa had considerable help from the community in making camp a reality for those Westview Middle School Students, including from their counselors who already had departed for college around the Midwest and beyond.

"They really targeted this on their calendar when we set the date, and they wanted to be a part of it. They were awesome," Grabel says.

Brown adds that the Westview Middle School students took to their counselors, though shyly at first. He says that district assistant superintendent Bonita Jamison, who also attended the camp, watched her students open up to the people who were teaching them to fish and climb rocks.

"She was really touched, really blown away by the way the kids took a risk and allowed themselves to get close to these people who, prior to that weekend, they probably would have been a little apprehensive of," Brown says.

Brothers Lazaroff and friends perform at Hanukkah Hullabaloo. - Micah Usher
Micah Usher
Brothers Lazaroff and friends perform at Hanukkah Hullabaloo.

The success of that October weekend is what's prompting Camp Manitowa directors to organize an April Camp Ferguson and to plan even more opportunities down the road.

"One of our goals is to use the camp experience as a vehicle to help develop relationships, help develop a sense of confidence and independence in kids, and really help them become leaders," Grabel says. "We believe that putting kids into those situations at camp can carry over to their school experience."

But to do that, Camp Manitowa needs community support for Camp Ferguson. About twenty students attended the retreat in October, but to take care of hundreds of students each year, the directors say they'll have to bring in extra staff and resources. With people like the Lazaroff Brothers on their side, though, they're determined to see it through.

"The idea of enabling kids who might not have the means to have that experience, even for a weekend, to get a taste of nature and some of the outdoor experiences is a pretty remarkable thing," Lazaroff says. "We can't fix it all with a snap of a finger, but it's one small thing."

"This isn't a program where we're raising money for a feasibility study for something that might happen. We made this happen the first time, and we're determined that it's going to happen again this spring," Brown adds. "If all goes well, we're going to bring a couple of hundred kids down next fall for a sixth-grade camp."

Learn more about Camp Manitowa on its Facebook page, and donate to Camp Ferguson through GoFundMe.

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