As summer comes to a close, so do summer camps throughout Fairfield County — albeit many held in different ways due to COVID-19. For the first time, camps went virtual and faculties were faced with a great effort to incorporate fun activities through distance learning. The summer program at Horizons at GFA was no stranger to these challenges and had made it their mission to make the camp experience as enjoyable and meaningful as the years before. In such a short period of time, their goal became a reality. Camp organizers put their heads together and successfully created an enjoyable virtual summer camp — including most, if not all, of the typical day-to-day experiences for their students, ranging from PreK through college-aged.
Horizons programming included virtual graduations, workshops, and even weekly field trips for younger students, where they were able to visit different locations around the world. As the Horizons PreK-8 program comes to an end this week, the group looks forward to several virtual experiences ahead, some of which include a Common Application and college essay boot camp, virtual college visits, and a transitional college week. Always looking to do more and be of more assistance, Horizons launched its first-ever Career Launch Program for college students. The program gave these students an opportunity to embark on paid internships this summer, lasting a period of six weeks from late June to the beginning of August.
GFA alumni Christina Whitaker ‘08 currently serves as the Director of the High School and College Success Programs at Horizons — where she oversees students from high school through several years post-college graduation. “We support these kids academically, socially, and emotionally for 8 to 10 years,” she said. However, due to the pandemic, many plans Whitaker had envisioned for the older students had to be reimagined.
Whitaker quickly found the upside to the tilt in her daily life. The extra time at home allowed the Horizons team the time to check in with all families — assessing how they could be of any help for those affected by COVID-19, sharing necessary resources, sending home dinners, as well as supplying any needed technology. “Usually, we’re just there for academics and social-emotional support, but once COVID-19 hit, there was a shift. What were the families' needs and how can we help?'' Whitaker explained. “I think COVID has brought us closer together as a community. It has also really shown us the support of GFA itself and how lucky we are to be a part of this family.”
“Unfortunately, a lot of the internships that we had lined up [for Horizons college students] just didn’t exist. … We had to go back and rethink, ‘how we were going to give you an authentic experience?’ That’s where GFA really stepped up — offering advancement interns, tech interns, athletic trainer interns. We were able to place every student thanks to GFA.”
All Horizons faculty have a common desire — to be the guide for every student and family who walks into their organization. Specifically, during tough times, Horizons has been a tremendous help for many. The distance learning program kept students occupied and learning, and future careers for high school and college students were jumpstarted, showing what life in the workforce truly has to offer. Horizons is known and beloved by students for being a family-oriented organization, constantly showing flexibility, positivity, and an eagerness to learn and grow. The students are at the center of everything at Horizons — they are the “why” — and as the first group of interns wraps up their summer internship experiences, Whitaker leaves them with a final note of encouragement. “You’ve done so much, so well, so far. You can do it again if you need to. You can really accomplish anything and Horizons is here to support you if you need it.”