“Living and giving and sharing as one/ Working together and having fun/ We built the dream that shines like the sun at TWIG.”
The TWIG — Together We Influence Growth — anthem has been sung loud and proud for decades, and the dream is returning to Winnetka after three years away.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the camp in 2020 and 2021. Camp leaders say TWIG will return this year for five weeks — June 20-July 22 — with its inclusive and diverse programming that has stood the test of time.
Founded in 1966, Together We Influence Growth was the brainchild of David and Mary James, the first Black homeowners in Winnetka. The couple heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak on Winnetka’s Village Green in 1965 and were reportedly inspired to get more involved in their new community.
In a 2013 interview with “The Historymakers,” David James said that when his family moved to Winnetka, his children missed their Chicago friends. So he and his wife worked with Winnetka Public Schools to integrate local children and South-Side Chicago children for activities.
TWIG was born.
“We had a problem getting suburban campers initially when we started out,” James said in the interview. “This year (2013) we had 125 campers, probably 75 white, and the rest of them from the city.”
TWIG, a nonprofit camp, continues its methods more than 50 years later and six years after the death of David James.
The camp is led by Victor Cooper and Leslie Jenner. Cooper is also a kinetic wellness teacher with Winnetka Public Schools and is in his third decade of leading TWIG.
“What’s cool about TWIG,” he said, “is a lot of children have life-learning experiences together and families unite and form lifelong relationships. As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen that happen over the years.
“I love (TWIG) because of what it stands for.”
Cooper gets giddy when talking about the daily programming at the camp: songs, sports, special guests, field trips, art and more. He said the camp offers nine different classes.
It is similar activity to other day camps, but TWIG’s diversity makes the entire experience special and unique to the area, he said.
“Racial diversity is really important. … There is big value when you don’t see color but see the rainbow,” Cooper said. “For me, I would love to see this go on forever, because there is such a value to the children and adults.”
TWIG is hosted at Greeley Elementary School, 275 Fairview Ave., in Winnetka, and most years it welcomes between 100 and 120 campers. The camp is still registering participants (age 6-11) for the summer of 2022 at a cost of $700 for the five weeks.
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