1988 Finalist
City of Atlanta, Georgia
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

In March 1981, 20 children were abducted in Atlanta, Georgia; most of these children were found to come from families of either two working parents or from single-parent households. Camp Best Friends, sponsored by the City of Atlanta's Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, Bureau of Recreation, was conceived of to provide highly supervised, safe recreation programs for children, as well as work for older teenagers. The program was intended as a safe haven where staff could keep a watchful eye on the area’s 69,000 children, aged 6 to 18.

Camp Best Friends offers planned instructional activities in athletics, arts, crafts, dance, drama, drawing, jazz appreciation, music, poetry reading, sewing, and writing in the mornings. Athletic competition, preparation for special programs, and supervised free play, interspersed with inspirational presentations, trips, and swimming is offered in the afternoons. Children receive breakfast and lunch free of charge through the United States Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service for Children.

Camp Best Friends builds on the staff base of 200 recreation professionals in the Bureau of Recreation, adding almost 700 summer staff. Camp directors and the instructors, who teach the morning classes, are largely teachers from the Atlanta Public Schools. Additional staff, counselors and counselor trainees, are teenagers, 300 of whom are hired through the Private Industry Council of Atlanta, Inc.'s Sunnier Youth Employment Program for disadvantaged youth. Thus the program, in addition to addressing the need for safe, supervised, uplifting recreational activities for out of school, largely unsupervised youth, also provides summer employment for teenagers.

Through Camp Best Friends, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs provides an opportunity for the community to pull together in meeting the needs of the city's youth. In 1987, 20 locations donated space; 79 individuals, organizations, and businesses donated time, skills, services and products; 55 corporations and individuals donated $270,000, including sponsorships by three companies in amounts of over $25,000 each. Camp Best Friends also looks to the number of children served as a success indicator; the program currently serves 9,000 children. Another major achievement has been the continued, sustained operation of a program this size in a time of shrinking public funds. Camp Best Friends has continued to serve this population of children and is currently in a growth period (from 4500 children in 1985 to 8500 in 1986 and now to 9000 children in 1987), sustainable for years to come.