A formerly vacant lot in the Hilltop, once filled with used needles and broken glass, will transform into a campsite for children who don't often get to see the simpler side of life.
Columbus' first "Camping In The Hood Is Good" event will take place Saturday and Sunday, run by a Christian group called 1DivineLine2Health. The organization began to build a butterfly garden this year on the South Oakley Avenue lot, where a house burned down.
“This place was a dumping ground for needles, you know for just garbage," says Esther Flores, the founder of 1DivineLine2Health. "And since we’ve been here, it hasn’t even been a year, we’ve been cleaning it up, so now it’s being maintained. Even the drug dealers, they actually keep the place clean for us.”
Flores and a group of volunteers will help 30 children from the West Side set up tents for the campsite, on the back side of the lot. Donations will also cover the sleeping bags for each child during the Saturday night sleepover.
Flores says the aim is to teach the children about nature and life skills. Volunteers will demonstrate how to plant a vegetable and flower garden. They've already planted some tomatoes, sweet potatoes, lettuce and cabbage.
Even though the camp site is in the middle of an urban neighborhood, the campers won't have access to running water, electricity, or WiFi.
The realities of drugs and crime are not far away, though. Flores says drug dealers hang out across the street sometimes. But the campers will be protected by roaming retired police and volunteer patrols.
“It’s so sad right now," Flores says. "There are many kids out of school, but what’s happening? They’re out on the streets, hanging out and they don’t have a place to play.”
Flores says through the camp, the children will take part in team activities and work on communication skills and how to work together.
"It's really a safe place for them be with people who genuinely care for them and also will show them what love is," Flores says.
1DivineLine2Health hopes to make the camping experience an annual event.