The Cincinnati Reds Community Fund was founded in 2001 and uses baseball as a vehicle to reach out to kids. It is a nonprofit organization that focuses on building character in today’s youth. A subgroup of the Reds Community Fund is the Reds Rookie Success League, which is an outreach program. These are free summer camps focused on helping less fortunate children. There are five different locations where these camps are held, including the Batavia Township Community Center.
The camp arranges fun activities for the children, as well as appearances from Reds players and coaches, and focuses on important messages each day. The children are provided lunch from the sponsors such as Chick-Fil-A and Skyline. The camp is four days a week for two weeks. Some children who attend have never touched a real baseball, let alone play baseball, so the camp teaches the children the fundamentals of the sport. Some of the campers have played baseball before and understand the basics, but the volunteers try to make the camp fun and enjoyable for all of the children. Volunteers are the key part of the camp. The volunteers are all very different, from high-school students to parents of young children; however, all of them are focused on the children’s time at the camp, so it can be as fun as possible.
The children’s ages range from eight to twelve, which can make these days stressful because there are over three hundred children at the camp and only around twenty volunteers. Each child has his or her own needs, and because of the age gap, switching between different groups of children can be a difficult adjustment for staff. Also, the younger children do not play with real baseballs because it could be dangerous.
The Reds Community Fund was looking to move its Warren County camp to a new location for many reasons, one being that not enough citizens were volunteering. As it turns out, the Reds Rookie Success League representatives were looking to put a camp in Clermont County but they did not know where. There were several locations they considered before the Batavia Township Park. Originally, the park was looking for funding to build baseball fields so that the University of Cincinnati–Clermont baseball team would have a facility to practice and play. At a Clermont County Chamber of Congress meeting, there was a discussion about having the camp at the Township Park, which ultimately made both parties happy.
The baseball field’s construction was completed and the camp was first held in the summer of 2011. One of the primary reasons the Reds decided to move the camp to Clermont County is that there are many children who are on the free or reduced lunch program in the area. Being on that program is one of the requirements to be able to attend the camp since it is designed for children who are not as financially well-off as others may be.
At the camps, there are “Six Stars of Success,” which are the six words the camp focuses on: cooperation, integrity, respect, education, determination, and spirit. The camp is centered on baseball, but one of its primary goals is to help the children’s futures. These kids are taught valuable life lessons at the camp, and are rewarded with bracelets if they represent one of the “Six Stars of Success.”
Rex Parsons is one of the primary individuals who organizes the camp because of his role with the Township. He is the Batavia Township Administrator and was born and raised in Batavia, Ohio. He attended the University of Cincinnati at both the Clifton and Clermont campuses. He studied Business Administration and was able to gain experience, ultimately helping him in his role for the Township. He is also the person who contacts the numerous sponsors such as Chick-Fil-A and Skyline, to provide lunch for the children.
One of the more important parts of the camp is to have plenty of food for the children who are attending, because some of the children go home and do not have any. Mr. Parsons said, “The first year of the camp we did not know what we were going to do with all of the extra food until several kids began asking volunteer coaches if they could take some home to their siblings who did not attend [the camp].” When Mr. Parsons first saw the statistics about what school districts the children come from, he was surprised to see how many came from the Batavia area. He decided to look into it and he found that of the four thousand children on the free and reduced lunch program, a great number are from Batavia. Mr. Parsons also said that the camp is usually held a couple weeks after school ends because “when the kids are in school, we know they are being fed, but [after school], we do not know how much or even if they are being fed, so the camp is held a few weeks after school is over so the kids can have some high-quality food.”
A trip is often planned toward the end of the camp to Great American Ballpark in downtown Cincinnati. Mr. Parsons believed that “that is without a doubt the most stressful part of the camp, but also one of the most enjoyable experiences because the kids are so ecstatic to be at the ballpark.”
On the final day of camp the atmosphere can be bittersweet. Volunteers hope that they have made an impact on the children’s lives for the best, but they cannot help but wonder how much the children will take with them when they leave the camp. They clearly create special bonds with each other, as well as with the volunteer coaches. Mr. Parsons noted that at the end of the camp it is very emotional for both the campers and the students: “You see some of the children crying, but also a number of the volunteers crying because they do not know what kind of life the kids are returning to.”
According to Parsons, “The camp is more than just baseball; it is about teaching these kids life lessons that they will hopefully use every day as they grow older and mature.” He is very passionate about the camp because he has seen its growth since its inception. Mr. Parsons wants to see the camp continue long after he retires as the Township Administrator.