District of Columbia

American Experience Foundation Announces Event for Middle Schoolers

24 Apr, 2019

The American Experience Foundation (AEF) announced the awarding of 30 seventh and eighth grade students from across Harrisburg, PA its 2019 Rite of Passage field trip, which took place March 15-17, 2019. A 501(c) (3) public charity, AEF enriches the lives of low-income students through inspirational travel experiences to the nation’s capital. It is the philanthropic arm of Destination DC (DDC), the official destination marketing organization for Washington, DC.

DDC and the SYTA Youth Foundation (SYF) guided students throughout the city for a unique, only-in-Washington, DC experience. SYF is the 501(c)(3) philanthropic sister organization of the Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA). SYF’s mission is to impact the lives of students and youth through travel experiences that change their lives.

The 30 middle school students who attended the field trip were all participants of Hamm Camp, a nonprofit week-long basketball camp based in Harrisburg, PA that was founded by DDC’s sports development manager, Lawrence Hamm, in 2009. The free week-long camp for girls and boys combines basketball skills instruction with a daily workshop focusing on essential life skills regarding communication and professionalism. Hamm Camp is the largest free camp in Pennsylvania, supporting approximately 300 Harrisburg youth each summer and was a dream for Hamm, who grew up in the community and played professional basketball for six seasons overseas.

“The ability to inspire young people through travel is one of my favorite aspects of my job,” said Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO, DDC. “Our very own Lawrence Hamm has been changing the lives of young boys and girls for years through his foundation, and I am so proud that the American Experience Foundation and our hospitality partners are joining forces to provide a field trip to the nation’s capital to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity.”

The three-day cultural excursion includes experiences such as a U.S. Capitol tour; a basketball game with the Capital City Go-Go, the NBA G League (NBA's minor league basketball) and an affiliate of the Washington Wizards; views of the city from the Entertainment Cruises’ Spirit of Washington boat and a monuments by night tour with Big Bus Tours. Throughout the trip, students worked with Omari Pearson, founder of ‘Passion to Purpose,’ on team building, work ethic and navigating career goals.

“My purpose with Hamm Camp has always been to teach Harrisburg youth that there is more in life than just basketball, so we teach them how to tie a tie, communicate effectively and explore prospective career fields, such as the travel industry,” said Hamm. “The opportunity to welcome 30 of my campers to the nation’s capital, with the help of AEF and SYTA Youth Foundation, is an amazing milestone and only an extension of my hope to provide more to these students each year.”

Washington, DC is the top student travel destination in the U.S., according to SYTA tour operators. The field trip will enrich the lives of these students by exposing them to attractions with historic significance, cultural understanding and the power of tourism.

“The Student and Youth Travel Digest is a global report showing that educators believe travel has a positive social impact on their students and improves classroom learning,” said Carylann Assante, CEO of SYTA and SYTA Youth Foundation. “The DC Rite of Passage program brings the classroom to life and we are proud to be a partner with AEF to make this happen for these students.”

Local partners who have contributed transportation, accommodations, attraction passes, tours and meals include:

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Big Bus Tours DC

Capital City Go-Go


Crowne Plaza Crystal City

Dani Fresh Photography

Entertainment and Sports Arena

Entertainment Cruises

Events DC

Innovative Coach

National Portrait Gallery


Observation Deck at CEB Tower

Omari Pearson/Passion to Purpose

Peak Performance Tours

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Student Watchers

U.S. Capitol Visitors Center

Beyond field trips: Throughout the year, AEF works in Washington, DC to invest in future tourism and hospitality professionals. AEF awards annual scholarships to deserving students from DC’s academies of hospitality and tourism, housed within DC high schools. This year, the foundation will announce its annual scholarship award winners in mid-May, with an awards ceremony to follow in June. Awards included the Gregory McCarthy Scholarship Award, recognizing exemplary leadership qualities, the David Iselin Community Service award to a student who has contributed beyond the classroom and an academy alumna award to provide ongoing support to a deserving DC high school graduates.

The American Experience Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity affiliated with Destination DC, enriches the lives of students through inspirational travel experiences and educational opportunities to cultivate the next generation of hospitality industry professionals. AEF offers students an introduction to the wonder of travel and exposure to hospitality career paths through: free field trips for low-income 8th graders from Washington, DC and across the country; scholarships to qualified DC high school Academies of Hospitality and Tourism students and graduates; and educational programs to connect students to hospitality industry professionals and ensure college and career readiness.americanexperiencefoundation.org

Destination DC, the official destination marketing organization for the nation’s capital, is a private, non-profit membership organization of 1,000 businesses committed to marketing the area as a premier global convention, tourism and special events destination with a special emphasis on the arts, cultural and historic communities. washington.org

The SYTA Youth Foundation (SYF), the philanthropic division of the Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA), provides access to travel opportunities for young people that would otherwise be unavailable due to family economic hardship, budget cuts in school systems or simply lack of access to or education about travel as a learning experience. The SYTA Youth Foundation is focused on changing young lives through travel. sytayouthfoundation.org


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