Eleven-year-old Leonard Lasker likes to call himself “the little engine that could.”
This summer, Leonard, just 4 feet tall, has done construction work, sawing wood blocks almost twice his size and digging holes as deep as he is tall that he then filled with concrete.
“I don’t let anyone call me names or tell me I can’t do something,” he said.
Leonard is the youngest participant in Osborne High School’s Project Leap, a summer camp that helps group-home and low-income kids learn about work. The all-day program addresses physical fitness, money management, work and social skills. The students are also helping spruce up Osborne, one of the oldest schools in the Cobb County school district. They built a cross country track, ROTC training camp facility and revitalized the senior courtyard.
The camp is one of 31 summer programs across Georgia that are financed by the Department of Family and Children Services and the Department of Human Services. The programs, run by community-based organizations and public agencies, promote self-sufficiency and independence among Georgia’s vulnerable children and adults, said Ravae Graham, a DHR spokeswoman.
Through such programs held after school and during the summer “parents and caregivers can ensure their youth have access to programming and services that support them academically, socially, emotionally and physically,” Graham said.
Osborne’s program is funded by a $100,000 grant and receives assistance from several local businesses. With seven staff members, it serves about 40 students and is in its sixth year of operation.
Most of the students come from Osborne High, its feeder middle schools and local group homes.
Students have the option of taking several vocational classes such as construction, architecture, horticulture and cooking, along with electives such as Zumba, drama and banking.
“These kids work hard. All they need is a chance,” said John Williams, a community activist who helps run the program.
In a recent drama class, students analyzed lines from a poem and applied them to their own lives. They shared stories of bullying, beauty and confidence.
“I’m usually pretty shy, but this program has helped me step out of my shell,” Briana Blankenship said. “I got the chance to perform in front of people for the first time.”
Alexandrea Wilson, 17, who will be a senior next year said she heard about the program this spring through the school’s afternoon announcements. She originally planned to relax this summer but decided to sign up after she found out the program would be building a training camp for the ROTC program, of which she’s a member. She aspires to be a construction manager.
“I’ve learned a lot about teamwork and applying the skills I learn in the classroom to real life,” she said.