Instead, Kessner bought the farmland with the intention of fulfilling a lifelong dream: building a summer camp for inner-city kids.
The son of a New York City taxi driver, Kessner was raised in a small three-room apartment in the Bronx. As a teenager, his life took a dramatic turn the day a college recruiter hailed his father’s cab and talked about scholarship opportunities at Dartmouth College. Before long, Kessner found himself holding a one-way ticket out of his old neighborhood and into a new life.
“Dartmouth opened my eyes to a world I previously didn’t know existed,” Kessner shared with TakePart. “It taught me how to spread my wings, and since that time, I’ve wanted to pay it forward and help other bright children from underserved communities break out and meet their potential. When I found Horizon Farms, I immediately knew that this was the place to plant the seeds of my dream and build a camp for kids who just need a bit of compassion, opportunity, and fresh air.”
After buying the land, Kessner needed to recruit experienced youth leaders who could design the camp, populate it with campers, and run a successful summer program.
SOWING THE SEEDS
Community of Unity (CofU) is a non-profit organization devoted to empowering young people to discover and develop their true potential. Since its founding in 2001, CofU’s workshops and highly successful after-school programs have brought life skills education to more than 30,000 teens in high-need communities.
Summer has always been a difficult season for CofU kids who are disproportionately affected by summer learning loss.
“For a lot of our kids, the summer is a bit of a wasteland,” Komoroff told TakePart. “Some are able to get jobs, but most aren’t. More often than not, whatever gains they’re able to make during the year—whether it’s academic gains or behavior and attitude gains—seem to disappear. Some kids get involved in dangerous behaviors, like hanging out with the wrong folks, drugs, violence, sex, and all the stuff we’re trying to help young people steer clear of. A lot of people end up getting into trouble.”
Komoroff’s vision of the ideal summer camp setting for urban youth matched perfectly with Kessner’s description of Horizon Farms.
“We’re big believers in the power of getting kids out of their environment,” explained Komoroff. “For our kids, that means getting them out of the city. We’ve been doing overnight retreats for our 11th and 12th grade students, and we’ve seen the magic of that. You can do some amazing things with only 24 or 48 hours out of the city that could take weeks, months, or even years to do programmatically here at home.”
And so the partnership to create Steve’s Camp at Horizon Farms was born.
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