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Doing her Part

Jennifer Stanley takes play to a whole new level

By Amelia Blades Steward

Jennifer Stanley stands still long enough to have her photo taken in her home

When you meet Jennifer Stanley, you can’t help but be swept up in her exuberance. Her bright blue eyes twinkle as she quickly moves about a room. At 74-years-old, she can keep up with any 10-year-old and has for nearly 40 years since she founded Oxford Kids Camp — a summer camp experience for children in Oxford, Maryland. Her passions run deep for her campers, her town, the environment and her country.

Jennifer and her husband Ted Stanley moved to Oxford in 1979 after sailing in the area and keeping their boat moored there. The two met at South Street Seaport in New York, New York where she worked as an educator. Ted operated Town Creek Foundation for 38 years and helped build a bigger, stronger, and more diverse base of environmentally engaged Marylanders. Soon after they arrived in Oxford, Jennifer decided she wanted to start an environmental camp.

She discerned, however, that kids need a variety of things to do in the summers. Ultimately, they want to have fun. In 1982, she started Oxford Kids Camp, known as “OKC,” and an afterschool program — both operating at the Oxford Community Center in Oxford.

“I liked the idea of summer camp and had fond memories of attending a day camp and a 4-H camp as a child. I grew up in an era when we could play, so I modeled OKC after what I enjoyed as a child,” Jennifer Stanley said.

“I especially liked the idea of kids being outdoors,” she added. “Children have too many restrictions today. Our camp offers campers a place where they can safely be kids and feel challenged to grow.”

Since 1982, the five-day a week camp has operated four weeks every summer. It serves children between ages six and 13.

“OKC campers have always been provided with opportunities for trying new things, being creative, being productive, developing social skills, and making friends. But ultimately, it is smiles and plain old good times that make the camp so much fun,” Stanley said.

The youth-centered full-day program is a mix of social, artistic, athletic and environmental activities. They are all designed to promote opportunities for fun, development and exploration. Because of the integral role of the Chesapeake Bay in the history and present-day life of Oxford, the staff teaches the importance of the natural environment. Also, they emphasize outdoor adventures in all camp sessions. Campers must demonstrate the skill of riding a two-wheeled bicycle as the camp gets around by bikes. They use the whole town of Oxford as its campus. The camp is supported by campers’ tuition, the Oxford community, and Stanley herself. Campers like it so much that many often return as counselors during their high school and college years.

Another of Stanley’s passions has been St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church on Morris Street in Oxford. It’s a historic Greek and Gothic Revival frame church built in 1856. It contributed early on to the growth of Methodism on the Shore. When the couple arrived in 1979, the church, across the street from their home, was in danger of being torn down. The congregation had stopped meeting in the church in 1977. The building was for sale.

“We bought the church because of its architectural

and historical significance,” stated Stanley.

After they bought it, the Stanleys did extensive renovations, returning the church to its glory days. They showcased its floor to ceiling pressed tin work and vibrant stained-glass windows. Enhancements such as remodeling the interior bathroom, making the building handicapped-accessible, and installing heating and air conditioning made the church suitable for community events once again. They completed interior renovations in time for Ted’s memorial service in 2009. This was very important to Jennifer who oversaw the final renovations during his illness.

Stewardship has always been important to Stanley — whether it is cultivating people’s love of the environment, teaching campers to respect one another so that everyone could enjoy the summer camp experience, or renovating a significant historic building in her hometown. Lessons we could all learn from as we take care of the communities we live in today.

Stanley’s renovations of the St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church on Morris Street in Oxford have opened the church to community events once again.

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