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Oasis Summer Camp experience inspires kids, future teachers

Published July 26, 2023

Ricky Castro’s Oasis summer camp has now come full circle.

Since 2015, Castro has run a summer camp at the Oasis Mobile Home Park. Located in unincorporated Des Plaines, the Oasis community and its children lack access to public parks and, until recently, public libraries. Castro imagined the camp filling in the gaps for children during the summer. For two to four weeks in June and July, it offers a mobile library, classes in dance, engineering and robotics, and activities like basketball and soccer. New this year is a community garden created by the residents and camp staff.

The camp is run by Elk Grove High School teachers including Castro, as well as student volunteers. In addition to providing free, safe, creative summer activities for local children, the camp provides a career-related learning opportunity for District 214 students who aspire to be teachers.

This year, one of the camp staff members was Nelson Garcia, who grew up in the Oasis neighborhood, and attended the summer camps. While in high school at EGHS, Garcia joined the dozens of students and aspiring teachers who help plan and run the camp. Now Garcia is an incoming teacher at District 214’s Newcomer Academy.

“This experience changed a lot for me,” Garcia said. “I knew I always wanted to do history but didn’t know what to do with it. As a volunteer at the summer camp I realized I was really good with teaching, really good with kids—I thought, let me try this teaching thing out. I’ve loved it ever since.”

That’s exactly how Castro hoped the camp would work. “One of the things we’re trying to do here is to develop a community that is developing future teachers,” said Castro, the 2017 Illinois Teacher of the Year. “Our own community members are leading their siblings, their cousins and neighbors. I believe that as we continue to do this through the years, we will have incredible teachers from our own community.”

Hear more from Castro and Garcia, and see the summer camp in the feature video above.