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North Hills Monthly

Kids Build Character, Learn Life Lessons at Sarah Heinz House Camps

Feb 28, 2018 05:03PM ● By Clare Heekin Lynch

At the Sarah Heinz House, summers are a time for making new friends and lifelong memories at their day camps, robotics camps and overnight camps for kids ages Pre-K to twelfth grade. From swimming to outdoor adventures, to robots or just having fun, the organization has something to make every child’s summer spectacular!

Starting as a small boys’ club on Pittsburgh’s North Side in 1901, the Covode House (its former name) provided recreational and social activities for boys who were the sons of newly arrived immigrants to the city. Two years later, girls were invited to participate, making the club the first of its kind to include both genders. Founder Howard Heinz, son of prominent businessman H.J. Heinz, promoted the concepts of character and virtue, and later changed the organization’s name to reflect the memory of his mother, Sarah. In the 1930s, the Sarah Heinz House became one of the first members of the national Boys and Girls Clubs of America, an affiliation which continues today.

The Sarah Heinz house serves more than 1,000 area youth through its afterschool and summer programs. Its 75,000 sq. ft. building includes the state-of-the art Baierl gymnasium and swimming pool, as well as a dance studio and fitness center.

Kids participating in summer programs at the Sarah Heinz House stay engaged and active with swimming, field trips, sports, games, arts and crafts, special guests and fun themes. Robotics programs feature the BeeBots (for ages 3-6) and LEGOs and VEX robots for students in grades one through eight. 

“The participants get to build, problem-solve, and create,” said Jennifer Cairns, executive director. “Our inclusive and supportive staff works hard to provide an incredibly high-energy, safe and fun space for the kids. It’s truly energizing to watch these kids learn and grow, as many come back year after year.”

Director of Summer Camp Kyle Glaser said that the organization prides itself on the inclusivity and diversity offered within the camps. “We have children of all economic backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and even dietary needs. Our staff, which is made up of full-time and part-time professionals, teachers off for their summer holidays and college students, focuses on every kid as an individual. They motivate through promoting self-confidence, dignity and self-esteem. They make it fun so that the kids don’t even know they’re learning!”

One tried-and-true option is the overnight camp experience. “It encourages healthy living, and being outdoors and in nature gets kids excited,” said Glaser. “It’s also about meeting new people and friends, and learning skills they will use for a lifetime.” 

The residential sessions are 11 days each, and students from second grade to high school seniors are welcome to unplug from technology and connect with nature. “Turning over rocks in a stream, hiking through tall ferns, fishing and archery–are all outdoor experiences that enrich a kid’s perception of the world and promote healthy development,” said Glaser.

He added that all of the camps at the Sarah Heinz House are meant to build character. “If you’re respectful, you’ll receive respect in turn. It’s as simple as that!” he said. “A trusting relationship is built over time and, through the continuity of our counselors, coaches and mentors, all of our campers experience that bond.”

The Sarah Heinz House Leadership Camp encourages high school graduates to assess situations and problem-solve in order to make good decisions and develop leadership and job preparation skills. “This camp helps today’s young adults learn to work with a team, improve their communication skills, and effect change in order to be socially responsible future leaders,” said Cairns. 

At the overnight camp, kids are part of meal set-up, serving and even clean-up. “They learn global appreciation and to respect and be responsible for the environment in which they live,” said Glaser. “They learn to meet the test of ‘leave no trace,’ which means to leave nature better than how you found it.

“We’ve had parents call us after their child returns home from camp, and they’re thanking us because the child is setting the dinner table and helping wash the dishes. So we know that the valuable lessons we’re teaching in the camps are working,” he added. “Camp is the perfect place for kids to practice making decisions for themselves without parents guiding every move. Managing their daily choices in the safe, caring environment of camp, children welcome this as a freedom to blossom in new directions.”

For more information on the camps at Sarah Heinz House, visit