Summer in the near northwest side community is marked by the scents of charcoal and fresh cut grass, screams and laughs from children freshly out of school, and beads of sweat from the intense heat. These simple staples of summer passed me by on my daily route to and from the Kheprw Institute’s eSTEAM camp last summer, where eager children from the neighborhood participated in a month long program learning about science and technology in an inter-generational environment. During the summer camp last year, where I interned as the coordinator for Kheprw’s MakerSpace, I participated in an exchange of lessons, where I traded my knowledge of photography and 3D printing for wisdom from the youth.

My story with Kheprw’s summer camp stems from the age of 12, when I was a camper learning about videography with a mini-camcorder. Throughout the following summers, I’ve become more involved, transitioning from a participant to a counselor at the camp. Last summer, I became project manager of Kheprw’s MakerSpace, where campers had time each day to learn about 3D printing and designing their own objects to be printed, music making software, and photography.

Each day, I watched their eyes light up as they designed their own prints and watched those same designs become reality in the 3D printer. It was in those moments where the exchange was fully realized: as a counselor, I helped them learn the tools, and in return, they showed me fresh perspectives on creativity and critical thinking. They pushed themselves to explore more. They asked questions about what was possible with their designs. They asked for access to more sounds on the music making software, and couldn’t keep their hands off of the camera after they got their first opportunity to take photos.

Reflecting on last summer, I grew as a leader, and I was able to share valuable skills with students from the community. The lesson in last summer’s camp that I carried with me was reciprocity; to introduce children from the neighborhood to new technologies adds conversation to the playgrounds and homes where they would go back to. It was an opportunity for me to give back to the community that has harbored my errors and picked me back up to learn from my mistakes. Being a camp counselor was a decision that gave me the opportunity to help campers learn, challenge their own problem solving skills, express themselves, and add their own marks to summer.