Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

August 29, 2013

Turning the page on summer

Backpack giveaway closes out vacation for Memorial Circle youths

By Judy Wakefield

---- — It was a summer of fun for a group of youngsters at Memorial Circle, thanks to a volunteer team representing several good-hearted groups in town.

It started with Claire Stahley, a local parent, and Kim Stamas, the town’s recreation director, who worked with the Andona Society to ensure 24 children from the public housing development got to spend their vacations at day camps at Recreation Park.

The Andona Society, a nonprofit group of local women dedicated to aiding and supporting the youth of the community, came through with camperships that helped cover the cost for Memorial Circle residents to participate in the town’s summer camp program. The society awards camperships each year through funds raised at its events, including the signature spring Clowntown festival.

Stahley also arranged for the Senior Center van to provide transportation to and from Memorial Circle to Recreation Park for the campers. A grant from the Quota Club paid for all the gas. And, Stahley also saw to it that the kids who participate in the free lunch program received breakfast and lunch as well.

Then, Kerri O’Dea, a special education teacher at Wood Hill Middle School, took things a step further by organizing a summer book club for the Memorial Circle kids.

Every Wednesday afternoon after day camp, the youngsters gathered at the Stowe Court Community Room at Memorial Circle to turn pages together.

Nine volunteers from Notre Dame University, who live at the ABC (A Better Chance) House on Main Street in Andover during the summer, pitched in to provide some added support. A different book was chosen for each grade level to read with their assigned team of volunteers, O’Dea said.

Dianne Caraviello, a local teacher who leads many family programs at Memorial Circle, said O’Dea and her group of volunteers made sure that the kids had access to books and reading support all summer long.

Caraviello has run the Family to Family program at Memorial Circle for more than 10 years. The program offers kids at the 54-unit, low-income housing complex access to Scouting, sports, summer day camps and other programs. The mission is to promote equity among youth in Andover.

Through the program, Caraviello is credited with helping Natalie Gomez-Martinez, a former starting point guard on the Andover High girls basketball team who is now continuing the sport as a student at Marist College in New York.

When the Book Club ended last Wednesday, Aug. 21, the youths had one final treat in store.

Liddy Kasraian of Andover, a student at Phillips Academy, organized a Backpacks for Kids giveaway for the summer bookworms. Thanks to community donations, everyone got a new backpack with which to start the school year.

“There was so much volunteer support for this. They make Andover a great community,” Caraviello said of everyone who pitched in.