Just Imagine What Kids Can Do If Given the Chance

Playworks alum Abby Sondak gives inner-city youth a chance to spend the summer at sleep away camp

It was May of 2011, and I sat across from my father in a French restaurant in Dupont Circle. “You know Abby,” he said carefully, “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

Months earlier, we were on a plane coming back from Scotland, home to the University of Edinburgh where I had decided to study Sports Business Management the following school year. I had it all planned out, I would finish out my year of service with Playworks and AmeriCorps, and then I would study abroad.

Something had happened in between the time I applied for graduate school, and that lunch with my father in May. I had fallen in love with my students; their cleverness, their curiosity, their innocence. I was also appalled at the differences between the education and experiences that children whose families have money had access to, compared to my inner-city students. I saw potential in two little girls whose home life made me cringe, and wondered what would happen if they were able to get away from home for a bit. I worked out a deal with the Director of Kutsher’s Sports Academy—a place I had spent every summer since I was 11. He would drastically reduce the cost of tuition for the girls, all I had to do was come up with the money and make sure they had all the clothing and supplies they would need for the summer.

So I did. I appealed to my family and friends, hosted a fundraising happy hour, and a couple of weeks later the girls were ready to go. I watched throughout the summer as they picked up lacrosse sticks for the first time, rode horses, learned to swim, and created bonds with children and counselors from all over the world. I knew I was on to something.

The following school year I didn’t go to the University of Edinburgh. I stayed in DC and continued to work for the school that I had served in the year before. Simultaneously, I finished the process of turning my camp idea into a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called Just Imagine. Our mission was to give as many wonderful inner-city children the experience that Tanmieka and Andrea had at sleep away camp the previous summer. Each year we have sent more and more children to camp, in exchange for their promise of putting maximum effort in school and demonstrating good character at all times. This past summer we sent 42 children to a total of 10 different camps all over the East Coast.

Last year it became clear that it wasn’t enough just to provide an enriching summer experience for these wonderful children. They are learning all of these skills at camp, but come home and don’t have the opportunity to continue these activities once they’re back in the city. Thanks to a grant from Hands on Tzedakah, we are able to help our students continue activities such as golf, dance, and archery once they come home. Additionally, we are able to locate and facilitate educational assistance such as tutoring, SAT preparation, and high school application assistance to ensure our students' success year round.

If it weren’t for my time with Playworks, none of this would have come to fruition. In fact, I might be in Scotland as we speak.

Abby graduated from the University of Maryland and went on to receive a Master's Degree in elementary education in the spring of 2015. Currently, Abby is the development and communications manager at Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School, in Northeast Washington, D.C.

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