Day Camp Opens for UAMS Employees’ Children During Pandemic

By Linda Haymes

That’s when UAMS and the Little Rock School District joined forces, opening a day camp April 20 at Pulaski Heights Elementary and Middle schools for UAMS employees’ children aged 5 to 12.

“Being essential workers meant taking off work was out of the question for us,” said Lacy Lewis, a speech therapist with the Psychiatric Research Institute. Her husband is a police officer with the Little Rock Police Department. “We were struggling, and our resources for help were limited due to social distancing and not having family nearby.”

“We were juggling our schedules to keep the girls home and doing our best to make sure they were able to access their assignments remotely and complete their work.”

At the day camp, about 95 students are enrolled in 17 classrooms. It is staffed by 142 volunteers, 97 of them UAMS employees from the Head Start program; Human Resources; the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Communications & Marketing; and the KidsFirst program. The day camp is held from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays through July 31. The camp is provided at no cost to the families.

UAMS Day Camp attendees spend time in the Pulaski Heights Middle School gym while bags containing the personal items of the school's regular students who had to leave the school unexpectedly in March await being collected by those students' parents.

UAMS Day Camp attendees spend time in the Pulaski Heights Middle School gym while bags containing personal items of the school’s regular students who left the school unexpectedly in March await collection by those students’ parents.

Lewis’s daughters Brianna, 9 and a third-grader, and Tenley, 8, a second-grader at Forest Heights STEM Academy, said they like attending the day camp.

“My favorite part of the camp is being here, learning new things, having lots of play time, and making new friends,” said Brianna.

Social distancing from both old and new friends has proved to be challenging for the girls, though.

“It’s tough not being able to get close to my friends and visit my old friends,” Brianna said.

“The UAMS Day Camp has been a lifesaver,” said Lewis. “It has allowed us to breathe a little easier and relieve some of the stress. We appreciate all of the work that has gone into the camp, and all of the workers who are ensuring that our kids are safe.”

Natasha Gayden, a paraprofessional who usually teaches 3-year-olds at the district’s Rockefeller Elementary, is now caring for several third graders, including Brianna.

“I really like being able to work with the kids, meet new people and help others,” she said. “My hope is everyone comes out of this experience remembering to always treat everyone else with kindness,” she said.

Darryl Powell, principal of Pulaski Heights Middle School, thinks the camp is a wonderful service.
“I think this is a phenomenal idea,” Powell said. “We all need to do all we can to support our first responders and the rest of our health care workers. This camp gives the children a safe environment, but when we add to that by also providing an educational component, it is wonderful. This program gives their parents one less thing to worry about.”

Jacquelyn Davis of Pine Bluff was working with the KidsFirst program in Pine Bluff before she temporarily shifted to working five hours a day two days a week at the day camp in Little Rock.

“It’s been a fun experience,” Davis said of the new assignment working with third-graders.
Other UAMS employees include Adam Carter, manager of the UAMS Fitness Center, who is holding physical education classes for the children.

“It’s been challenging since the COVID guidelines prohibited us from using any common equipment like balls,” Carter said. “But I’ve enjoyed working with the kids doing things like exercises.”

Teletha Leonard, senior human resources director of benefits and employee services at UAMS Office of Human Resources, directs the camp.

“The main goal is to provide a safe and secure environment while also promoting fun educational activities as the front line employees of UAMS provide exceptional health care to the community,” Leonard said.

“The parents have told us how much fun the students are having each day and that they really appreciate the assistance provided by the professionals of the Little Rock School District.”