Camping in the Hood

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By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photos by Dedra Cordle
After a year hiatus, the overnight adventure that is ‘Camping in the Hood is Good’ returned to the westside on June 26. Pictured here at the Hilltop Butterfly Garden on S. Oakley Avenue are some of the happy campers, volunteers and safety officials who participated in the event.
Rakiyah Lopez, 8, proudly displays the artwork she made during a crafting session at the camp.

It was the late morning on June 26 and the young cadets had just arrived at their destination on S. Oakley Avenue.

Featured prominently on the property at the Hilltop Butterfly Garden was a splendid playground set that caught their eye, but little time was allowed for play before they were given a mission.

The first order of the day was to hike to Joedean Small’s encampment next door and set up their tents for the night. The vast majority of the group of children had no idea what to do.

“It’s harder than it looks,” said Rakiyah Lopez, 8. “Sometimes it doesn’t do what you want it to do.”

As a veteran of the overnight adventure that is ‘Camping in the Hood is Good,’ Lopez quickly pitched her tent and assisted the others with theirs. When a few of the older cadet campers arrived a bit later, those who experienced their first success were eager to lend a hand.

Though they did not know it at the time, they had just passed their first test to become a “Love Warrior.”

A Love Warrior, explained camp founder Esther Flores, is “someone who doesn’t give up on a mission” no matter how trying it is. A Love Warrior is “someone who doesn’t give up on others – or themselves – when times get tough.”

“They are tougher, these Love Warriors,” she said. “They know the power of helping others, of making a positive impact on someone’s life.

She said Love Warriors follow that mindset, even if all they hear are doubts or the word “no.”

Flores said she has heard those doubts and that word throughout most of her life, especially when she moved to the area and wanted to establish health clinics and drop-in shelters for harmed men, women and children.

Through perseverance and networking with other like-minded individuals, she says she was able to establish a non-profit charity called 1DivineLine2Health. Under that umbrella, a number of programs were created including ‘Camping in the Hood is Good.’

The intention of ‘Camping in the Hood is Good,’ she said, was to bring the great outdoors to children who otherwise may never have gotten that opportunity.

“We wanted to provide them with a safe place to explore nature, to get their mind off of their troubles, to allow them the chance to be a kid.”

She said when she announced her plans of making this location the overnight destination, the word that she heard the most was “no.”

But among the naysayers were those who believed in this venture – who believed in the power of nature to heal, or at least inspire.

Among those supporters of the idea was Fred Brophy, a sergeant with the Columbus Division of Police. Brophy has been with the division for 25 years and has spent the last decade working on the westside.

He said he knows the reputation this part of the city has, but also knows there is more to it than a harmful perception.

“It is a challenged neighborhood, there is no doubt about that,” he said. “But there is a lot of promise in this community, and a lot of it comes from kids like these.”

Close to 20 children aged 7 to 13 participated in this year’s camping adventure. They come from a variety of backgrounds but have all faced some hardship throughout their young lives.

“Some of these kids are growing up in poverty, growing up in single-homes, attending ‘F’ rated schools,” said Flores. “Some of these kids have seen violence, lost parents or loved ones to drugs. But look at them out here, smiling, having fun, finding new friends, and getting to explore the outdoors in a way they might never have been able to.”

She said throughout the day-long adventure, lessons are intertwined with the crafting and entertainment festivities, including presentations given by public safety officials. Columbus firefighter Felecia Jackson shared home safety tips and offered encouragement when going after your dreams.

“I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter and I’ve tried a few times to join the department but I was never able to until I reached my 40-somethings,” she said. “I just want to tell them that you can do anything you put your mind to and that nothing can stop you except your will to do it.”

Brophy, who also served as an adult chaperone for this year’s outing, spoke of the importance of gun and street safety. He invited a few members of the bike unit to join and engage with the children.

“I want these kids to know that there are other adults out there who are looking out for them,” he said. “That there are people in their corner even if they don’t believe in it themselves.”

Flores said that is another aspect of being a true Love Warrior – believing in love even though events can make you question it.

“There are bad things out there, but there are so many people out there willing to help.
“And that is what this whole thing is all about – sharing our love with these kids and seeing them open up and be able to share it with someone else.”

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