Summer camp returns to Linden as Ohio State program expands
Amir LaMarr was a giggle. His sneakers squeaked on the gym floor as he casually wheeled around the Linden Community Center. He can back up on the grass, but it’s not as easy or safe to handle indoors, he said.
“Amir! It’s your turn, hurry!” his advisor called.
The 9-year-old turned around and joined the boys-to-girls relay race, sprinting through the gym to retrieve the purple ball in the distance.
Across the hall, 9-year-old cousins Gionna and Xavion Smith carefully glued Cheerios to the basketball, water glass, and ball they drew, depicting particles in it. a solid, a liquid and a gas.
Xavion frowned while sticking before announcing that camp is fun. He’s a big basketball fan.
“I can’t survive without sports,” he explained through a mouthful of Cheerios.
Cousins and Amir all attended LiFEsports, a free summer camp organized by Columbus Recreation and Parks in partnership with Ohio State University. The program, which offers a variety of activities including sports, arts and crafts, and opportunities to explore nature, is new to Linden, and kicked off its summer session in the second week of June.
LiFEsports started in 2009 at the Beatty Community Recreation Center and has since expanded into a developmental program serving economically disadvantaged children in the community aged 9-18.
But last year the Linden Community Center was closed for renovations and the pandemic has reduced the 56 camps the city runs this year to 39, Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Kerry Francis said.
“We were at our peak last year,” she said. “But it’s a really important source for the community and after nine months of virtual learning the kids are really excited.”
Surviving the pandemic
LiFEsports advisers at Linden Community Center don’t think kids have fully understood and addressed the ramifications of COVID-19 in the past 15 months.
“As long as we adults support them the best we can, I think they’ll be fine,” said Noelle Britt, a counselor who works full-time at the Ohio State College of Social Work.
“But the burden should never be on them,” she added.
Britt, 29, is also the School Family Coordinator at Windsor STEM Academy in Columbus and encouraged Gionna Smith to enroll in LiFEsports this summer.
“Ms. Noelle works at my school,” Gionna said, “and she told me that the camp would help me have fun and not get in trouble.”
Gionna said the best part about LiFEsports is the buttons campers earn if they demonstrate one of the camp’s four core values: self-control, effort, responsibility and teamwork.
“It feels good when you get one of these buttons,” she said, proudly displaying her collection of seven, so far, pinned to the bottom of her t-shirt.
In a tennis match last week, Gionna got a button for teamwork.
“I was communicating during tennis,” she said with a smile, “And I said to another girl, ‘It’s okay, don’t be hard on yourself.’”
Seeing the campers come in, make new relationships, understand self-control and have fun has been so rewarding, said Britt.
“After the year they’ve had… they absolutely deserve it,” she said.
Summer of pleasure, encouragement
Across the hall, Amir LaMarr was panting. The boys lost the relay race to the girls, but no one seemed to care too much.
In a stun after the cartwheel, Amir forgot to pick up the ball at one point during the stint, but scoffed at the blunder.
He spoke enthusiastically about the sports he will play this week: Ultimate Frisbee, the gym games and the sports they faced last week: tennis, softball.
His favorite remains football.
Britt, the counselor, said it is easy for some people to remove children from economically disadvantaged communities. And it’s even easier to focus on the negativity, violence and hardship that neighborhoods like Linden and marginalized communities in Columbus have endured.
“But I think the best thing we can do is encourage them to dream big,” she said. “They are bright, smart and gifted kids and anything we can do to help them see it makes a big difference.”