Published July 17, 2019
By Justin Risley

Local youths of the summer program, Summer Jam, participated in a riverfront trash cleanup of Heritage Trail Wednesday afternoon.

The program, co-sponsored by Bully Busters and Norwich Youth and Family Services, is a six-week enrichment program that provides local students — middle school and below — with opportunities to partake in community service and other engagement activities.

The event began with students handing out flowers as they walked to Brown Memorial Park from their meeting place at UC Church, which is not affiliated with the program, across from City Hall.

They arrived at the riverfront equipped with gloves, buckets, trash pickers, and a red wagon, eager to begin the trash clean-up which would conclude at Uncas Leap.

This year’s Summer Jam began July 1 and occurs Monday through Thursday. A key part of the program is to complete one to two small service projects every week.

“Kids get what they need to learn for themselves from doing the activities and community service,” said Theresse Weigand-Watkinson, one of the program staff who has participated in Bully Busters since age six.

Program Director Peter Grant said Summer Jam provides an opportunity for social and emotional learning to student participants.

Grant said past projects have included the children making cards for cancer patients and visiting residents at Sheltering Arms in Norwich.

Grant has been a part of Summer Jam for five years and works for Norwich Youth and Family Services. He said this was the first trash clean-up the summer program has completed since he’d been around.

Currently in his second year at Summer Jam, Melton Eliassaint, 10, was one of several kids with a bucket and trash picker in hand.

“This has been inspirational because I never felt like I was helping the community before coming here,” said Eliassaint. “I’ll be coming back next year.”

Steve Starke, a former Summer Jam staff member who volunteers at the program’s service projects was one of the guides for the event.

“These kids are awesome,” said Starke. “This has all been successful in my eyes.”

Starke said some of the Summer Jam kids attend the art lessons he teaches at the Gallery at the Wauregan on Main Street.

Starke said he plans to create his own service event to repaint the West Main Street underpass along the Heritage Trail, “to make it look more acceptable.”

“We are going to fix this,” Starke said as the kids walked passed the vandalized underpass.

Summer Jam staff member Wes Murphy, in his first year at Summer Jam, said the program guides the students in the right direction and gets them to try new things.

“It’s opening doors that they can then walk through,” said Murphy.