The 6th Annual Harford County Champions for Children and Youth Awards ceremony took place on Friday, June 22, at Harford Community College’s Chesapeake Center. Leanna Gefrich, Coordinator for Youth Programs at the College was one of the recipients of the Champion for Children awards. This award, presented by the Harford County Department of Community Services Local Management Board, honors those who have made a major contribution in Harford County to help improve the lives of children and young adults through the age of 21. Introductory remarks expressing appreciation for all those who have made a difference in children’s lives were made by Kevin Keegan, Chair of the Harford County Local Management Board.
From a flourishing summer camps program to the College’s Fine Art Academy to her commitment to Destination Imagination, Leanna is truly deserving of this honor. As Coordinator for Youth Programs, Leanna has led Harford Community College in offering a wide array of youth camps, programs, and classes to youth in this community from preschoolers through high school. Youth courses have over 4,200 enrollments per year in 340 course sections.
Leanna summarizes her passion for children and her job with the statement, “When I think about why I love my job it boils down to this: I am passionate about teaching kids to think, and I do so by offering quality programming here at the College.” Youth summer camps at the College include programs in athletics, arts, science, technology, engineering and academics and bring in over 1,300 children to the campus each summer, says Leanna, “Children of all ages get to experience a variety of activities and explore new things, from cooking and computer programming to art, theater, and science. Each time a child comes to our summer camps they get the best we have to offer. Our goal is to enrich, entertain, and educate for the 21st century.”
Leanna is also committed to helping youth who may not have had an opportunity to attend camps due to financial need. “I believe that every child deserves the opportunity to go to camp,” says Leanna. For the past two years, Leanna has applied for and received a grant through HCC’s Foundation to provide camp scholarships for students with financial need. “Working with the College Foundation, we have established scholarship funding through the employee annual giving campaign, as well as our Grants for Innovation initiative. This year I am introducing a transportation scholarship which will provide campers from the Edgewood community to receive free tuition to our Kids on Campus/Discovering College camps, as well as free transportation to and from campus. Financial inequality should not leave any child behind.”
Also included in Leanna’s programming are Harford Youth Orchestra and the Fine Arts Academy, which extend and enrich learning opportunities beyond the traditional school classroom for serious young musicians and artists. HYO gives Harford County music students the opportunity to further explore their passion and be able to practice and perform outside of the school classroom and develop their talents to their fullest potential.
Leanna created the Fine Art Academy of Harford County as a result of meeting a Harford County Public Schools art teacher who was running her own art studio through a local rec center. Once she learned of her drive, passion, and methodology for teaching art, it was clear to her that the College needed to embrace this studio and create the Fine Art Academy of Harford County at the College. Housed in the College’s art building, Joppa Hall, the students (ages 4 and up) have the opportunity to use quality studios and materials to further their art education beyond the classroom. The Academy has grown from its first semester in the spring of 2017 with only 27 students to 52 students in the spring of 2018. “This is a prime example of how we as a College can create programming and work within the community to meet the needs of Harford County youth,” says Leanna.
Leanna’s passion for encouraging learning and thinking beyond the classroom extends to her involvement with the Destination ImagiNation program. Destination ImagiNation’s mission is to be “a fun, hands-on learning experience that fosters students’ creativity and curiosity through open-ended academic Challenges in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), fine arts, and service learning.” Destination ImagiNation has been a part of the College’s youth offerings for approximately five years, and this year HCC hosted their first University Level team at the Global Finals. “This programming is so important for today’s youth in preparing them to enter the 21st century workforce. It teaches creative problem solving, critical thinking skills, and teamwork, all of which are paramount in today’s society. Not only do I support this program through my job, but I also had the pleasure of coaching an elementary team this past season. We learned a lot from each other and I am happy to say that we placed second in the Regional Tournament.”
In the short term, Leanna looks forward to another successful summer of learning, exploring, creating and, most of all, having fun through hands-on activities, field trips, and enrichment experiences on the College’s beautiful campus. In the long term, Leanna has three goals to continue building her youth programs here at HCC: develop enrichment programs by partnering with Harford County Public Schools; foster relationships with area homeschoolers; and grow a partnership with the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. Harford Community College is proud of Leanna’s success and is pleased to continue offering a wide array of educational and stimulating programs to the youth of Harford County.