Water balloons, rockets, snow cones and slime get top billing in most kids’ pantheon of summer vacation favorites. Luckily for children in Dallas’ high-poverty Frazier neighborhood, they now get to experience mainstays like those every Wednesday.
After the pandemic hit, multiple Dallas nonprofits teamed to throw Pop Up Camp, a weekly event that aims to relieve kids of coronavirus-induced anxiety. So far, the camp's had its intended effect, said Yasmine Lockett, director of education and engagement.
“At first they used to complain about how hot it was,” she said. "But by week three, I don’t even think they realized it’s in the dead of summer.”
Lockett works for the nonprofit Frazier Revitalization, which helps families in Dallas' 75210, 75215 and 75223 ZIP codes with housing, health care, job and childcare assistance.
Lockett said she and her colleagues created Pop Up Camp to provide kids with access to hands-on programming while social distancing. Since its first session on June 3, each event has been held outside Frazier Revitalization’s office building.
Children from the surrounding area are welcome to join, Lockett added.
Every Wednesday starting at 11 a.m., Lockett said up to 50 children from ages 3 to 13 arrive to engage in various activities. They’re always sent home with a STEM-based learning kit, which they’re incentivized to work on throughout the week. Art projects are also thrown into the mix.
One time, the kids got to shoot off rockets, Lockett said; last week, they made slime. This Wednesday, they’ll get help engraving metal bracelets with words of hope, she added.
“The whole point of Wednesday is for peace of mind, mental wellness — health and wellness,” Lockett said. “We want to be there to provide that aura of oxytocin to reduce the stress barriers on their brains, because it’s a lot.”
The camp provides mental health, physical fitness and team-building activities, said Issiah Thomas Jr., co-founder and CEO of participating nonprofit Networking Knights. Thomas said Networking Knights has been working with Frazier Revitalization since 2019 to help kids living in marginalized communities.
Camp facilitators remind kids to wear masks, maintain safe distances and sanitize their hands regularly, Thomas said. Pop Up Camp is outdoors, so that mitigates the risk of coronavirus' spread; outdoor spaces are less risky than indoor spaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although safety measures must be enforced, Thomas said that they don’t hinder anyone's happiness.
“Words can't express the joy we all feel to see the youth face [sic] burst with energy once they set foot on the campsite,” he said in an email.
Lockett said the project has attracted a ton of support from other nonprofits and local businesses. TMJ Dance Project, “Tweeners” with Baylor Scott & White, Seeds to STEM, Dallas Photo Lab, Dallas Afterschool, Project Still I Rise, and Dallas Innovation Alliance have all contributed.
Kona Ice has served snow cones each week, and Wings World and Williams Chicken have also provided food.
In addition, DJ Flip plays music, and rappers F.A.T. (formerly Fat Pimp) and M.E. have made guest appearances. Lockett said DJ Flip does his best to make sure that requests are edited to be family friendly.
There’s another music trend that the kids adore, Lockett said.
“Every song that’s on TikTok must be played,” she said with a laugh. “And we love it because when we do play it, they give us their TikTok dances.”
Even parents seem to enjoy the camp, Lockett said. Instead of dropping their kids off for two hours and going back home, some decide to pull up a lawn chair to watch the activities from the sidelines.
The last official day of the summer’s camp is Aug. 12; after that, Lockett said Pop Up Camp will transition to focus more on kids' educational needs. Frazier Revitalization will continue working with Mobile Learning Lab, a bus that provides free WiFi to kids, she said.
School may be around the corner, bringing with it a new set of worries. But Lockett said that this summer, Pop Up Camp has done its best to help kids navigate the unknown.
“It’s a very stressful time," she said. "And we know a lot of the kids that come out there, it’s helping them cope with that.”
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