Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration, but the young students who benefit from Camp Ferguson may end up remembering the Jewish holiday as a season of giving that continues months and years from now.
Students from the Riverview Gardens school district have the opportunity to attend a special summer camp in Camp Manitowa in Benton, Illinois, thanks to camp directors, local musicians Brothers Lazaroff and a host of community supporters. What began this fall as an idea to offer a camp for a handful of Ferguson students now may become a yearly event for an entire school district.
"We are fervent believers in the power of summer camp, and we think it's an incredible vehicle for reaching out to the kids in Ferguson," says Andy Brown, co-owner of Camp Manitowa. "We really think a summer camp experience can really do wonders for them."
See also: Photos from Hanukkah Hullabaloo 2014
Camp Manitowa has its sights on offering an annual sixth-grade camp to students of the Riverview Gardens school district in north St. Louis County -- the area where Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed resident Michael Brown in August. Camp owner Andy Brown [no relation] says that sixth-grade camp is something that many schools in the St. Louis region -- and around the country -- provide, but that's not something that's been in the cards for middle schools in Ferguson. Until now, that is. With the help of many supporters, Brown and camp co-founder Dan Grabel are raising funds to bring those students to Camp Manitowa free of charge.
"We are exploring corporate funding, reaching out to foundations, groups that have a vested interest in kids, and groups that want to help kids from Ferguson, in particular," Brown tells RFT Music. "We are really excited about what's happening, and we are really proud of the way the entire community has responded."
Playing a role in that community is David Lazaroff, whose own early camp experiences helped develop his leadership skills. That's just one reason why his band Brothers Lazaroff and venue Create Space donated proceeds from the recent Hanukkah Hullabaloo celebration to the Camp Ferguson initiative.
Lazaroff's connection to the directors of Camp Manitowa goes way back to when he attended a camp led by a young Brown.
"It was a camp that a lot of Jewish kids went to growing up, and Andy was one of those big figures when we were kids -- just a really neat guy who was always doing cool stuff," Lazaroff said. "It was a real foundation to help you establish your identity. There was just a ton of music; it's where I fell in love with music like Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead."
"My very first summer as an administrator of summer camp -- to this day I'll never forget it -- the most dynamic, memorable camper that I had was a 13-year-old David Lazaroff," Brown says. "He was the best athlete, the most popular and really was just a leader amongst all the other kids."
Lazaroff and his brother Jeff stayed in touch with Brown over the years, often playing campfire songs for the kids at Brown's and Grabel's Camp Manitowa. That nearly lifelong connection is how Lazaroff learned about a recent fall retreat for Ferguson students that kicked off the idea of a yearly-district-wide retreat experience.
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