Chattanoogan: Kim Leffew Concludes 16 Years Running GPS Summer Camps

Tuesday, August 13, 2019 - by John Shearer

As a high school and college softball player and later a coach, Kim Leffew constantly tried to get herself or her team around the bases and back home.


After more than 15 summers heading Girls Preparatory School’s summer camp programs, she feels like she has come full circle as well.


“I’ve been doing it so long, and the people I have met and gotten to know have been incredible,” she said during a recent interview.

“And seeing our campers turn into students has been fulfilling.”


But this summer marked the end of an era for Ms. Leffew and the school, as she is transitioning from directing the school’s auxiliary programs like summer camp to heading the school’s Impact Fund annual giving campaign.


She will remain at her home workplace of GPS, but will be raising funds instead of helping youngsters raise the level of fun through the camps.


“It is bittersweet,” she said of leaving the summer programs behind. “But I will have a little bit more freedom in the summer. And vacation and time off will look a little different.”


As Ms. Leffew looked back on her career in her easily approachable style, she said she had no idea she would end up at GPS while she was a standout softball player at Red Bank High. After graduating in 1992, the former Kim Russell played softball at Chattanooga State and then went up to Carson-Newman before finishing her schooling at UT-Chattanooga.


She was able to get hired at GPS in 1999 as a physical education teacher when the school added sixth grade to its curriculum, as McCallie School did that same year and Baylor did two years later. She also helped coach softball at the middle school and varsity level.


In 2004, she became summer camp director after previously serving as the youth camp director. In 2010 she stepped down from coaching and in 2014 she left the classroom to become director of auxiliary programs. That includes the summer camps, The Bow campus store, the Cadek Conservatory, and facilities rentals.


The camp she has headed in recent years is far different from the summer program that GPS once offered in its infancy in the 1970s.


Retired GPS administrator and historian Rickie Pierce said the summer program began when tennis classes were offered in the summer of 1974. Beginning the next year, she said, an organized program termed Summer Fun Shops offered art, drama, pottery, tennis, swimming, and dance.


“In 1976 a ‘Cultural Summer for Children’ also was offered and then became an actual camp in 1977,” Ms. Pierce said. “During the following years swimming was taught at a neighborhood pool, and horseback riding lessons at a local stable were offered.”


Ms. Leffew said she has always heard a story that typewriting, grammar and sewing were among early programs along with the previously mentioned horseback riding.


The program now includes Camp Kaleidoscope, the most heavily attended camp, which started in the 1980s and is for girls ages 4-9. Also popular is the Bruiser Camp for fourth through seventh graders.


Other activities include specialty camps like the Sprouting Chefs Cook-Off, Counselor-In-Training camp, Adventure Camp at Creekside Stables, the American Girl Doll Camp, photography camp under Emily Lester and music camps.


Also offered, among even more camps and programs, are safe sitter training, a STEM camp, and, of course, a number of athletic camps headed by GPS coaches.


“We average between 800-1,000 kids and eight weeks of programming,” said Ms. Leffew. “For a child who is here with us every day of the summer, she is getting a thorough GPS experience from each of our discipline areas.”


She added that the camp does have a small number of young boys in such specialty camps as tennis and Kindermusik, the latter of which recreates a family vacation adventure.


A GPS summer camp program is held, Ms. Leffew said, to share the experience of GPS with the community, to provide some summer child care for area youngsters, and to offer fun for youngsters in a safe environment.


And, of course, it also helps sell GPS as a future school of choice for these youngsters and their parents in a Chattanooga community with a number of other schools that also have enticing summer programs.


For Ms. Leffew personally, the summer camp program has provided such rewarding experiences as seeing GPS girls, some of whom started as campers, go on to work as counselors. One helper this past summer, Megan Delaney, is a GPS graduate now at East Tennessee State University, who started as a camper at age 5 and was involved with the camp program for 14 summers.


“Those are the stories for me that are the most touching, to see my students become counselors and camp assistants,” she said. “And some of my former students are bringing their children to camp.”


While Ms. Leffew has helped many young girls get ready for a possible experience at GPS as the summer camp director, she is transitioning to the other end of the GPS experience -- helping alums and other supporters stay connected with the school.


She has already had experience in fundraising and volunteer development for a number of non-profit groups, she said. That started in part because her and husband Todd’s son, Laik, has trisomy 12P, which is characterized by development delay and intellectual disability.


She hopes to transition well into the new position, saying the secret to being a good fundraiser is simply to build positive relationships with people and let them see the impact or importance of their potential contributions.


And all the positive relationships Ms. Leffew has enjoyed offer a special memory of working with the summer camp programs for 16 summers, too.


“It has been a wonderful experience,” she said

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