Hands-on learning: Summer incentive program makes school fun

CALERA &8212; Finding Lelia Mitchell during a hot summer afternoon in Calera usually isn&8217;t too difficult.

She&8217;s the one surrounded by dozens of children in the midst of a summer camp she runs with the Encouragement Learning Foundation Incorporated, a non-profit organization she founded four years ago.

The camp offers children ages 6-16 the opportunity to learn new skills in the arts, take educational field trips

and benefit from optional one-on-one tutoring during the summer. Tutoring will also be available for students later in the fall as well.

&8220;We encourage self-esteem, motivation, character-building and field trips created around what they will be learning in school,&8221; Mitchell said. &8220;We want to show these children that we care about them.&8221;

Mitchell said she was driven to open the camp because she felt that it was God&8217;s plan for her, and she was able to follow through on it with help from her sister, Celisa Gaiters, who had a similar interest in helping children. The two have worked together since 2003 to expand the camp from 30 to 60 children.

She said all are welcome at the camp, and those who attend learn everything from sign language to needlework to more traditional lessons such as civil rights history and math and sciences.

The camp is at capacity for the time being, but Mitchell said plans to expand the house she purchased for ELFI were submitted last week to the Calera City Council, and await approval.

Some of those who work at the camp benefit from ELFI&8217;s mission as well. Akeyla Holifield, an 18 year-old freshman at the University of Montevallo, said she became involved in ELFI through a scholarship program called Upward Bound, which places college students in jobs to help pay for their tuition.

&8220;It&8217;s a fun and interesting job,&8221; said Holifield, who works at the camp with her cousin Kenyatta Holifield, also a freshman at Montevallo.

Mitchell said she relied on community businesses, the Shelby County school district and Calera Mayor George Roy among others, for the support necessary to fund and resource the camp.

&8220;It&8217;s a blessing,&8221; Mitchell said