Not one cent will have to be paid by the Hilliard City School District for Joy Outdoor Education Center (Camp Joy) this year, but a committee has been formed to save the incoming sixth-grade experience at all costs.

Not one cent will have to be paid by the Hilliard City School District for Joy Outdoor Education Center (Camp Joy) this year, but a committee has been formed to save the incoming sixth-grade experience at all costs.

Lisa Ford was one of the parents who first approached members of the school district about preserving the experience for the 1,200 students who will be sixth-graders in the fall.

Shortly after Superintendent Dale McVey suggested eliminating Camp Joy in a proposal to cut $4.49-million dollars from the $147.5-million general fund budget, Ford and other residents asked the board to reconsider.

Ford and Carrie Duckworth, who has attended the camp as a teacher for 16 years and now has a fifth-grade child hoping to attend, said the camp, which has been available since the sixth-grade concept was initiated, is beneficial for students.

After spending three days and two nights in the camp, Ford said, her daughter Rachel, who is now a sophomore, knew she wanted to be a counselor once she hit high school.

Duckworth said the confidence level of the students is never more evident than when they work together on the high ropes.

President Denise Bobbitt said she and her fellow board members have heard several favorable comments about Camp Joy. During the comments, Bobbitt said, people suggested turning to private businesses or researching grants to fund the program.

"We have to make reductions and this is one of the things on the list," she said. "We are open to hearing options."

Ford said she understands that the cuts in the budget have to come from somewhere.

"But we are afraid if we don't fight to keep it alive this year," she said of Camp Joy, "it will never come back."

So a committee was formed to figure out a way of financing the summer camp before school ends on May 30.

"We have to get a lot wrapped up in two weeks, because then we lose touch," Ford said on May 19 after meeting with the committee the night before and making a presentation to the school board on May 12.

A group of people met on May 9 to form the committee to Save Camp Joy, Ford told the school board members on May 12.

"It is not just one or two people," she said. "It involves a lot of people in the community."

A dozen people met on May 18 at Iacono's Pizza Restaurant, according to Ford. About 20 people attended the previous meeting and there are about 200 people on the e-mail list.

She said they were given guidelines by one of the district's assistant superintendents, which did not include paying for the experience, the teachers or the transportation in getting students to and from the camp located in Clarksville, between Dayton and Cincinnati.

Ford said representatives of the camp have indicated to committee members that they would typically charge $140 per student this year.

"They have agreed to lower it $20," she said.

By adding $30 for transportation fees, Ford said, it will only cost $10 more than it would have normally.

Parents pay for their children to attend the camp each year, but the board has covered the expense of students who could not afford to go, transportation and teacher stipends.

The committee is working on ways of covering that cost in the future.

"We don't want to exclude anybody," said Ford. "We want to make sure everybody gets an equal chance."

On May 21, Ford said, the group had more than $6,000 in donations from individuals and companies and the committee is working to raise $10,000 so it can apply for a matching grant.

"We want to do this without being a burden to the school board," she said, explaining that she is grateful that the members left the door open so the community could work to save the program. "People in Hilliard really band together when something like this comes up."

Ford thanked treasurer Brian Wilson during the meeting on May 12 for his suggestion that the committee have the Hilliard Education Foundation hold the money in its account.

The teachers involved in the process have commented on how closely it relates to the curriculum, said Ford, who serves as a substitute teacher.

"It bonds them with students early in the year," she said. "Sixth grade is a melting pot and they get to know some of the students outside of school. It also helps because the students get to know each other."

The incoming sixth-grade students do not benefit from the program alone. Ford said students who have gone through Camp Joy and are now in high school look forward to returning as counselors.

"We are losing a leadership opportunity for the upper classmen," she said.