Time for Tilly's Kids

So normally I’m not one to gush, but I can say that I am ready to do so over a Pass It Along program. Tilly’s Kids is easily one of the coolest, most fun, meaningful, and impactful programs I have been involved with, not just at PIA, but at any job I’ve ever held.
It started at a great location with a decent looking forecast: Swartswood State Park (love) and an overcast but warm July day. Then, the real party showed up: A bus full of children from Newark who had come, many for the first time, to meet their “buddies” for the afternoon, and enjoy a play day away from their urban environment in the exurbs of Sussex County.
The premise for the program is simple: take children out of their environment who otherwise might not have the opportunity to do so, show them how to have a fun time in a natural setting, and have teen volunteers help them along the way. However, the meaning of the program to the children and the impact on the volunteers (myself included) is complex, multifaceted, and deep.


Discovering the dead fish.

My first day was Wednesday. (Tilly’s Kids/Camp runs Weds-Thurs-Fri.) On Wednesday, I was sold; by Thursday, I couldn’t wait to see the kids again, and on Friday, I was sad I wouldn’t get to see the Tilly’s gang until the following week. “What makes the program so special?” you might ask. Well, if you have ever seen the expression on a child’s face when you tell them that a lake is made by nature; when you hear excited and half-terrified screams over a dead fish or a creepy crawly bug; or you see the wonder and happiness that fills a group of children who are seeing, doing, and experiencing new things like playing on a beach or swimming in a park, then maybe you would better understand.
A day with Tilly’s Kids passes in a blur of fun, sun, sand, swimming, playing, and learning. But I remember distinctly the feeling I got when my “buddies” snuck up and gave me a hug before they got on the bus to go back to Newark. (It was crazy awesome, if you were wondering.) It made me feel like I had accomplished something special.
If you haven’t signed up yet, there’s still plenty of opportunities to help and get involved. Between “camp” days in Byram, and “play” days at Swartswood State Park, there’s bound to be a day and location that is convenient for you. Your time and attention are the most valuable gifts you could give the program, and you’ll really make a difference in the lives of children who often face difficult circumstances.
We’d be glad to have you. And a Tilly’s kid will definitely be glad that people like you take the time to be their big-kid  “buddy.” I guarantee it.
Click here to check out our upcoming Tilly’s Kids dates!
Maren Morsch, AmeriCorps Program Associate

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