HYDE PARK – Fathers and kids got their camp on this past weekend and didn’t have to venture off into the woods to do so.
The 2nd annual Father and Son Camping in the Park outing this past Friday and Saturday gave participants a chance get acquainted with neighbors – and nature.
“A lot of them may not have a chance to go the wildness to go camping, so we bring the wilderness to them,” said 3rd Ward Alderman Brandon Bosley, who started the two-day, overnight neighborhood camping excursion last year.
The campout goes down in Hyde Park Park near Salisbury and 20th streets. The NorthSider made it to the campgrounds just as families and volunteers were putting up tents on a very fair-weather Friday evening.
“The kids in the city don’t get a lot of this,” said Jessie Mitchell, who brought her children.
In those two days they got a lot.
With a DJ jamming music as an added backdrop, children frolicked about, playing chase, catch and basketball. They watched a movies on theater-size inflatable movie screen and were treated to on-site, freshly popped popcorn, just one of all-day complimentary food items, including fish, barbecue and ice cream.
The evening also included a bonfire, near a DJ stage, where men who had done jail time talked to boys about the importance of developing relationships with neighbors, self-restraint, respect of self, community and authority.
“What really got me is that when the men asked the kids how many of them had seen someone get killed, over half of them raised their hands,” said Mateo Mrnjavac, a white UM-St. Louis student and intern with LinkStL, a neighborhood community organization that co-sponsored the event.
Kimyatta Smith, executive director of LinkStL, said, “A lot of them don’t get to have these types of conversations, and I think that having male influences has an impact on the kind of men they will grow up and be,” something that Bosley, who deems the event a crime deterrent, well knows.
“We miss a sense of community in our community,” Bosley said. “We gotta get them to bond and remember one another, so they grow up and know one another. … The more sense of community you have, the more you make bonds.”
Day two: Bond at pond. And beyond.
Campers rose Saturday morning about 7 a.m. to fish at Hyde Park Lake, inside the park.
“I haven’t been fishing since my pa-pa took me,” said a boy of about 12 who was fishing with other boys, referencing his late grandfather.
“A lot of these guys grew up like me – without fathers around,” said Trey Fletcher, who served as deejay and brought his son, who after several false tugs caught a fish.
“Anything we can do to connect the kids to nature and bring neighbors together, I’m all for it,” said south city 9th Ward Alderman Dan Guenther, who volunteered in support of Bosley.
After some successful fishing, lunch and more activities awaited.
Children peeped inside of a helicopter after it landed in the park. They got the rare opportunity to ride a Clydesdale horse and get up, close and personal with animals provided by the Missouri Department of Conservation. They also bounced some of the afternoon away in a large bounce house and played life-size games including pool.
Some children won brand new bikes and other desirable vehicles in a raffle.
“One of the best things we can do is show our kids that there are people out here who care about them,” said Ja-Mes Watson, who attended with family members.
Watson added, “I come to this park sometimes, and you can tell by the way some of the kids act that they may not have a father in their life, but today, they are different.”