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Giving Vacation Time for the Greater Good

For the past twenty years, Sheena Curley has given her vacation time to work as the director of the Knoxville Kiwanis Fresh Air Camp, an overnight camp for underprivileged children. The Fresh Air Camp is recognized as one of the most successful programs in Kiwanis International, serving underprivileged, "at-risk" and disabled children, and providing a wonderful summer camp experience without charge.

Sheena CurleySheena Curley is being honored as a Champion of Change for her service to Kiwanis International. 

For me, I knew at a very young age that I would follow a ministry of working with children and becoming a teacher. We can only change the world by helping our children grow in God’s love and a world where people care. I am so honored to be chosen as a White House Champion of Change. It shows the world that people can make a big difference in the life of a child.

For the past twenty years, I have given my vacation time to work with a program near and dear to my heart: the Knoxville Kiwanis Fresh Air Camp. In 1922, Knoxville Kiwanis President Charles Rutherford attended the Kiwanis International convention in Toronto, Canada. He returned with an idea of providing a fresh-air camp for underprivileged children. Since that time, the Knoxville Club’s signature project has been the Fresh Air Camp, which is recognized as one of the most successful in Kiwanis International. Overnight camp sessions run for four weeks for ages seven to twelve, with an additional two weeks of day camp for children with disabilities. No children or families are charged. All fees are raised by the Knoxville Kiwanis Club through donations of members and friends in the community. Camp operations run close to $40,000 dollars each summer to serve the 150 children who attend the camp sessions.

I have now been the director of the Fresh Air Camp for 20 years. It is such a joy to see that underprivileged, "at-risk" and disabled children have a wonderful summer camp experience.  We award 150 children the one-week scholarships to the camp, and I work with several social agencies and school systems to select girls and boys who would benefit from the camping experience. The Kiwanis Club of Knoxville has been able to provide two one-week sessions at camp for children with disabilities through a partnership with East Tennessee Children's Rehabilitation Center, Children's Hospital, and the University of Tennessee.

The children enjoy lots of recreational activities, including swimming, kickball, volleyball, basketball, hiking, arts and crafts and board games. Most cherished is the swimming! One of the goals of the camp is to improve the health, nutrition and social skills of the children. More than 34,000 underprivileged children have attended the Fresh Air Camp over the past 91 years. I am so thankful for the 130 volunteers who give their time each year—club members, area churches, Key Clubs and private and public schools—to assist with serving the youth. 

I started working toward my goal of helping children by attending the University of Maine at Farmington, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. I soon began working in the public schools in Quincy, Massachusetts, and ended up in lots of special needs classrooms. I went back to college to further my education and attended Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a Master of Science in Education in the area of Special Education. Simultaneously, I began teaching children in Sunday school as well as various other classes within my church and have continued this ministry since 1968.

After leaving the public school system, I began employment with nonprofit organizations that help children with special needs. Upon my husband Bill’s retirement from the U.S. Navy, we moved to Tennessee. I soon began a 19-year career of working with women and children in an addiction program called Great Starts of Knoxville. 

At Great Starts, I worked directly with drug-addicted newborns as lead teacher in the infant room, and I became the nursery director three years later. I held this position until 2005 and then became a parent support supervisor, working with the mothers. During this time, I taught basic parenting as a volunteer at the Board of Probation and Parole. For the past three years and until May 2012, I worked as a case manager.

I have spent my entire adult life contributing to numerous clubs and organizations that share my belief in following God’s plan for helping children grow to their fullest, and I am deeply humbled to be recognized for this service.  

Sheena Curley is the Director of the Kiwanis Fresh Air Camp in Knoxville, Tennessee