[image-51]Project Safety Manager Carol Hamilton has 300 kids. For the past 23 years, she has been helping young kids through SPECTRUM, a free, comprehensive youth development program she cofounded and supports.
In 1988, Aerospace Engineer and Project Safety Manager Carol Hamilton cofounded SPECTRUM, a free youth enrichment program for children aged 7 to 10. The program is affiliated with People’s Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C. Over the past 23 years, Hamilton has helped about 300 kids.
“We want to get children at the age where they begin making life choices to help them make the right ones,” said Hamilton. “I don’t have kids, which gives me a little more time to do this.”
While the program is staffed by volunteers from all walks of life, the kids are mostly from D.C. Many are church members, some are not.
“We have some kids whose mothers are homeless, from halfway houses, or in jail and other kids are affluent,” said Hamilton. “Once when we asked the kids to make a prayer, one prayed for his father to get out of jail.”
The program runs during the school year. The group ranges from 10 to 20 kids. They meet from 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. three Saturdays a month and serve lunch too. Every Saturday they have an activity highlighting one of the values of SPECTRUM, which stands for spiritual, physical, educational, cultural, talent, relationships, unity and motivation or, as summarized by Hamilton, “love, pride, service and peace.”
“We’re exploring their options and giving them a taste of the world,” said Hamilton. “We let them think about the choices they can make.”
The group has a hotline for parents to find out the next week’s activity, to RSVP or just to reach the volunteers. The parents are always invited to attend; some do, some don’t.
Hamilton, who does most of the programming, tries to make everything fun yet still instructive. Here are some examples of her creative activities illustrating SPECTRUM’s values:
Spiritual: Meditating or holding a value auction where they list values—such as being kind—and the kids bid on them.
Physical: Learning about nutrition by making a healthy breakfast.
Educational and Economic: Playing the “budget game,” where the kids get a budget and have to make life choices or “the taste test game,” where the kids compare budget to brand name cereals. Or even visiting Goddard.
Culture: Going to a museum, holding their Christmas-Kwanzaa party, or having a contest between sweet potato tarts and pumpkin tarts baked and served by the kids using proper etiquette.
Talent: Holding a talent show with a science theme or writing for their newspaper called “The SPECTRUM Gazette.”
Relationship: Playing “Through Our Eyes,” where the kids interview an older family member about their childhood, or making an anti-bullying video.
Unity: Doing community service such as making gifts to give to those in need on Thanksgiving or cleaning their local park.
Motivation: Having goal-setting parties with subsequent parties to monitor progress or hosting a mini talk show where the kids come dressed as they would like to become as adults—such as world-famous lawyer—and explain the steps they plan to accomplish to succeed.
SPECTRUM exists largely through fundraising, church funds and grants. One of their biggest fundraising events is selling the delicious SPECTRUM holiday sweet potato cake for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The volunteers are always spending their own money too. SPECTRUM has received multiple awards including the prestigious Points of Light Excellence in Volunteer Service Award from President George H.W. Bush in 1989.
“Some of our students are now 30. I’m still friends with a few of them. We’re reaching out to the second generation now, including the first child of one student and a niece of another. Sometimes you don’t realize the difference you’ve made until years later when you run into a former student or their relative,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton’s mother is a teacher. Hamilton’s mother is encouraging her to write a book about SPECTRUM highlighting her creative programming.