The 350-acre New York Farm up near the Catskills was a refuge for the Plenty Ambulance crew and many weekends folks would go there for a little rest and relaxation. As the Plenty workers and their families got to know the South Bronx residents, they invited neighborhood youngsters to come with them for a taste of the country.
Carol Nelson remembers, “We worked it out with Tyrone’s mom so he could come along. We were leaving the Bronx, driving over the bridge and starting to get up into the country; it’s trees and grass and meadows and animals. Tyrone is sitting there when I see him pinching himself. He hadn’t ever been out of the city. He’d hardly been off the block until we came along. I said, ‘Tyrone — what are you doing?’ ‘I just want to be sure I’m really awake. This is really happening?’ So Tyrone was the real beginning of Kids To The Country (KTC) in the spring of 1978.”
The people living on the New York Farm realized how important the freedom and wonder of a country experience could be for kids living in rough parts of the South Bronx. John and Barbara McDaniel took on the task of organizing a summer program for these at risk kids. By 1982 the Kids To The Country Program was running five sessions during the months of July and August, where forty New York City kids each got to spend a week of swimming, hiking, weaving, beading, and tie-dying, exploring a neighboring dairy farm, and eating healthy home grown food.
Barbara McDaniel: We had a wonderful site on the New York Farm with a little swimming hole. We camped rough for two years, bringing kids out of the Bronx as well as Carterett, where Anthony Stewart is from.
The whole camp idea was conceived on walks home from the school on the Farm with Anthony Stewart and me. He was from New Jersey and I was from New York and we thought with the Bronx Center happening it might work out. It was a time where these type of camps were popping up around the New York state and the north east area.
Gannet Newspaper gave us a grant as well as many generous donors through Plenty. Mona Hagerty would get us kids through different ways and means and we would pick them up and bring them upstate. For a lot of them it was the first time they had ever seen so much grass and nature. It was challenging as there was only a outhouse and outdoor shower, needless to say, the kids said WHAT? But they adjusted and had a great time. The other challenge was it was vegetarian and no one was that — no junk food or anything like that. We cooked over a campfire so it was a experience for sure. We found these incredible wild blueberry patches and would pick blueberries, had dance parties under the stars, put on plays, and had a arts and crafts spot in the barn.
We had a crew of teens that were our counselors and they were awesome. One year we paid them with a trip to a concert at Liberty Bell race track in Philadelphia with the Police, the Go-Go’s, the Specials, Oingo Boingo, and the Coasters. That was great. Another time we took them the to a great reggae festival in Woodstock, which went late into the night, as good as it gets.
This particular picture was a group that we took up state and the woman, I can’t remember her name, said “ I’m not sending my kids with you without me” so we said come on along and she joined us for that session.
It was a grand adventure and Anthony Stewart is still in touch with several of the kids , now adults, who we had from Carterett. He has been told by several of those kids that it made a hugh difference in their live to get to go to the country. My hope is that it helped all of the kids.
Thanks again New York Farm…
The transformational potential of those experiences was the catalyst for the founding of Kids To The Country in Tennessee in 1986. Founder and Farm School teacher, Mary Ellen Bowen, directs the program to this day. Over time, KTC has become one of Plenty’s core programs — offering inner-city youth the chance to experience the beauty and peace of the natural world in a unique, healthy environment. KTC weaves a world view of respect for the natural world and all life, and the importance of resolving conflict peacefully into activities such as horseback riding, organic gardening, arts and crafts, swimming, hiking and talent shows.
Mary Ellen Bowen, KTC Director: “KTC kids are from 6-11 years old and are referred to the program from homeless shelters, low-income housing projects, refugee centers, and social agencies — giving kids a welcome break from life on the urban streets. Since its inception in 1986, thousands of kids have participated in Kids To The Country. We have had kids from our neighbors in Lewis County, Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, and Huntsville, Alabama, Katrina-ravaged New Orleans and Biloxi, Mississippi. Refugee centers have sent us children from Sudan, Cambodia, Vietnam, South Korea, plus immigrants from Laos, Bosnia, Rwanda, Senegal, and Iraq. As the kids age out, they can return to train as KTC counselors!”
Along with the summer program, an annual winter Gift Making Workshop and Kwanzaa Celebration provides the kids with holiday gifts to give and encourages them to maintain their connection to nature, each other, and to the guiding principles of the program: Breathe like a Mountain, Flow like a River, and Smile like the Sun!