Island Roots Camp Group helps build community for kids after school

MARBLEHEAD — When the after-school program Island Roots Camp Group opened in late 2020, it had only four participants. Two of them were co-founder Jessie Stephens’ own kids.

Now, two years later, it has a large network of families who utilize its programs in Marblehead, Nahant and Concord.

“Our mission is to empower generations of kind, capable, conscientious individuals,” Stephens said. “The idea is basically like we create a nice space for kids to be who they want to be.”

There are only two other after-school programs in the Marblehead and Swampscott area, she said.

“There are these big organizations that are very well established and we saw a need for something a little different, but the focus is really on building community for the kids on social-emotional development, on relationships,” Stephens said.

All of their employees are CPR and first aid certified and have a lot of “in-house” training.

“We also try to hire, for [the] program directors and people who work more hours, people with experience working with kids, people who are coming from different careers … we have a couple of people who were preschool teachers … we do a lot of training based on what they come in with and what they might need for support,” Stephens said.

Island Roots has multiple programs at multiple locations. The one in Marblehead is their flagship location.

“This program runs our after-school club where we pick up from some Marblehead schools and we provide bus transportation that’s by registration, so families will register for specific days of the week,” Stephens said.

They also accept drop ins for registered kids, she said.

“Let’s say there’s a child who registers for Tuesdays and they come every Tuesday — maybe they need to drop in on a Thursday. We can always do drop ins like that,” Stephens said.

Island Roots also offers discovery days when it’s open everyone. The other programs they have are at Marblehead’s Devereux School, Nahant’s Johnson Elementary School and Concord’s Nashoba Brooks School.

At its after-school programs, Island Roots offers snacks, games, puzzles and a music room. The Marblehead location has an open floor plan and then a separate area for the older kids.

“We call it kind of discovery based, where they can approach whichever area they’re interested in,” Stephens said. “We have a lounge area that’s really for our fourth graders and up, which is an option for kids who are a little more independent.”

The lounge offers an air hockey table, a comfy couch and puzzles. Stephens describes it as a space where they can “be a little separate from the younger kids.”

Island Roots also offers a summer camp, she said.

“This past summer, we ran some specialty programs here for older elementary students. We did a nature and art camp, we did a performing arts camp where we actually had a play that was written by a local high school teacher that they put on,” Stephens said. “We’re planning for summer 2023. Everyone’s asking already, and we’re hoping to have all the information out by February.”

For the future of Island Roots, Stephens said she wants to continue to add value to the community.

“I would love to be a place that is just a reliable provider of high quality childcare for elementary age,” Stephens said.