Helping Pittsburgh's Refugee Children With A Summer Camp Just For Them

May 27, 2016

PRYSE Academy co-founder Jenna Barron takes a dance lesson with one of the young refugees at the 2015 summer camp.
Credit Luv Purohit

Hundreds of summer camps are available to Pittsburgh youths each year, but for some parents there is really only one choice that makes sense.

“We wanted to create a space specifically for young people who have the experience of refugee and immigrant students,” said Jenna Baron, who four years ago founded the Pittsburgh Refugee Youth Summer Enrichment (PRYSE) Academy. “We organize a three-week summer program for immigrant refugee students in Allegheny County."

The campers practice their English skills, talk about adapting to their new culture and take part in “creative expression workshops.”

“Our goal is to inspire confidence in students so that they feel more prepared not only for school, but also in achieving their personal dreams and navigating Pittsburgh,” Baron said.

Baron and her camp co-founder Alicia Quebral run the program without pay, with the the help of as many as 20 other volunteers. Baron said every year she gets to see the campers “come out of their shells” as they build their English skills and work on art projects. The camp culminates with the students presenting their projects in English before some 100 individuals.

One camper, 14-year-old Sardorbek, of Uzbekistan, made a video to show off his animation skills. 

“(Baron is) the kind of person that inspired me to be a better person just by watching her … work with the kids, the way she connects to them and they way they connect to her,” said Rachel Martone who met Baron in college. “She genuinely believes in them and from that they know that they can achieve anything that they want.”

Baron said it's a struggle every year to fund the summer camp, but so far she has always been able to cobble together grants and donations to keep it alive. She also get staffing and programing help from organizations like the Pittsburgh Public Schools and Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

“There are a lot of people who are invested in seeing it happen every year,” Baron said. “So as long as people still have the compassion for the (refugee) communities, it will be around.”

The PRYSE Academy will be held in August.