With the end of the year and winter approaching, we are taking a look back at the summer and the success of our programming.

Our 2023 Summer Genius Labs camp ran from July 31st to September 1st. For five weeks, Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM, we engaged a total of 58 students ranging from ages 4 to 14 in various activities & field trips related to STEM, art, and the outdoors.

Watch a recap video of the camp here:

GMCC’s Youth Team Reflects on 2023 Summer Genius Labs

Although GMCC piloted smaller scale versions of Summer Genius Labs in previous years, this scaled-up iteration was a first for us.

GMCC Director of Youth Initiatives Meghann Gordon reflects on this: “It is the most ambitious youth program GMCC has ever tried. We were hoping to register 60 kids, and we registered 83 total”, she says, “It really speaks to a need that families have for no-cost care that is still fun for the kids. Parents said that if they were not in this program, their kids would just be at home or at work with them. They got to have social and academic time, field trips, and physical activity that they would not have been provided otherwise”.

Meghann helping students sample honey and try on beekeeping suits with Pollinate MN

Meghann and her colleague, Youth Program Manager Deeq Abdi, were both hired in the Spring of 2023. They were tasked with the big responsibility of building the Summer youth program from their vision as newcomers. As Deeq states, “It was challenging at first because we had to build something from the ground up that hadn’t been attempted before, but I think it was a success. We had a big turnout and attracted a wide variety of families from completely different backgrounds, creating a sort of microcosm of South Minneapolis. We brought together a group of youth that would not have had regular contact with each other during the summer, or even at their schools. We opened their eyes to the diversity of culture and personality that exists in our community”.

Scaling up the program meant hiring more part-time Guides to staff the summer camp. Luckily, we were able to hire a solid team of people with various background and experience working with youth. “We had some seasoned classroom teachers, camp counselors, and some with special education and social work experience who were more well-versed in 1:1 care. There was an almost unusual diversity of skillset, but this made the team strong as a whole”, says Meghann. Many of these Guides came back to work for GMCC again for the Fall, where they could apply the skills they learned during the summer.

Camp Guide Domonique assists with a planting lesson at the Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center

“We built a team that we have watched grow over time, and also used the lessons we learned to build a youth worker training program”, Deeq says proudly. Meghann and Deeq created a robust training manual for youth workers that will help prepare both new and returning hires for future programming. This manual establishes protocol for different situations that may occur.

Summer Genius Labs gave full-time GMCC staff opportunities to engage with the youth as well. Staff would eat lunch with the kids and some helped chaperone weekly field trips. GMCC Program & Communications Coordinator Len Sanqui led a workshop about nature photography, and taught kids how to use rented DSLRs. This relationship building was really important to the kids and adults alike, and made the work environment more fun. Deeq noticed this, saying, ” I saw that having youth programming in the building made the place more alive and vibrant”. It was great to have a whole month where the building was filled with laughter and joy.

Many of the field trips and visiting partners were cultivated through our staff’s personal connections in the community. For example, the farthest field trip of the summer was to Amery, Wisconsin to visit Whetstone Farm, a collaborative farming project focused on community and sustainability, ran by a close friend of Deeq’s. After Deeq reached out to him, he built a whole field trip for the group. The kids got to walk around the fields to identify, learn about, and harvest crops to take home.

Deeq posing with a student at Whetstone Farm

One of Meghann’s favorite anecdotes from the summer is from this field trip: “The kids saw butter in a huge log, which they had never seen before. They were really curious and interested in it, and this little moment shows how we provided unique learning experiences for them, on a variety of subjects and in a variety of settings they may have not had a chance to visit otherwise”.

“Many parents chaperoned this field trip as well, which facilitated some sweet bonding moments between parents and their kids”, says Deeq. “This gave parents an opportunity to learn and see new things alongside their kids, and also allowed parents to experience the program first-hand and build trust with the staff”.

Students learning about different kinds of crops at Whetstone Farm

Another facet of the camp that was really impactful was the food. We got free hot meals – breakfast and lunch – every day courtesy of Youthprise. “I was really proud that we fed everybody hot breakfast and lunch”, says Meghann. “Providing food is challenging for families in the summer, without school as a source for meals. Kids were excited about the different foods we had every day and week, and even tried new things”. Free, all-day, month-long summer programs that provide two meals are hard to come by.

“It says a lot when families continue to attend our programs and drive all the way from the suburbs to the inner city for us,” Deeq says, when asked about the impact this program had on families. “It was a successful program, and I think we can use that success to catapult ourselves into further success during our Fall, Winter, and Spring programs. We can find a way for our year-round offerings to be just as appealing and impactful to the community as the summer was”.

As for next summer, Meghann and Deeq already have plans to make the program even better. “For next summer, we would like to have people sign up per week, with themes each week so kids can focus on what interests them and can go more in-depth on specific subjects”, Meghann explains. “And we want to go on new field trips, anticipating kids returning from the previous summer. We want to strengthen our STEM activities, with more hands-on engagement, and spend more time digging deeper on a particular topic”.

Deeq asks the questions that they are thinking about for next year: “How do we make our curriculum more hard-hitting and educational? How do we get kids to grow educationally while having fun? We want them to have a good time, but also make sure they don’t lose basic math, science, and reading knowledge while they’re not in school”.

Along with the video, we created a “yearbook” that compiled photos, art, quotes, and stories from the program and sent them out to families of participants, donors, funders, and partners who were involved with the camp.

View the yearbook below:


Stay tuned for content about Fall and Spring youth programming!