Ten years ago, when the Ohio Hispanic Coalition began offering a Summer Enrichment Camp for Hispanic/Latino children, organizers focused on the West Side.

“That’s where the Hispanic population used to be centered,” said Josue Vicente, the coalition’s executive director.

But now, Hispanics are assimilated and locating throughout Franklin County, he said.

“We try to be where our community is,” Vicente said. “And it’s is not like it was in 1982 or 2001 when our population was mostly on the West Side.”

So this summer the coalition is operating camps not only at Grove City United Methodist Church but also in Gahanna and in northeast Columbus, he said.

The coalition is also looking to host a camp in the Hilliard/Sawmill Road area next year, Vicente said.

The enrichment camp is an eight-week program offering sports, arts and music activities for children ages 5 to 13.

Youngsters also explore academics, with daily reading and math lessons, and learn about nutrition, bullying prevention and health and safety issues through visits from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department and Children’s Hunger Alliance and other agencies.

“We look to provide a well-rounded set of activities for our campers,” program coordinator Odaliz Freytes said.

The camp, which has been held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, runs through Aug. 3.

The Ohio Hispanic Coalition’s mission is “to improve the well-being and quality of life of the Hispanic population through advocacy, education, training and access to quality services,” program officer Dayra Vazquez said.

The coalition meets that mission through four main pillars – safety, health, interpretation and training services and youth and education, she said.

In addition to the summer camp, the coalition’s educational services include an after-school program, English as a Second Language courses and citizenship classes, Vazquez said.

“We’re able to get to know the children in our programs and their families, and that helps us understand the kind of services and assistance they need,” Vicente said.

A total of 168 children are participating in the three enrichment camps this summer, Freytes said. The camp is offered at no cost to families.

One of the most important aspects of the enrichment camp is to encourage the children to embrace their heritage, Vicente said.

“We want children to know it’s OK to be who they are and to learn to withstand what others might say about them because they look differently or talk differently,” Vicente said.

“A problem that we see happening in the U.S. is the lack of identity,” he said. “There are people in the Hispanic community who grow up and get to high school and don’t know who they are and where they belong.”

The coalition strives to provide families with the resources and knowledge they need to thrive, without losing touch with their family’s heritage, Vicente said.

“We are empowering families through our camp,” said Wendy Castillo, site coordinator for the Grove City camp.

“We’re someone they know they can turn to for help getting information and resources they need,” she said.

The educational aspect of the camp is important, Castillo said.

“We want the students to keep up and improve their reading and math skills, but we try not to make it seem like they’re in school year-round,” she said.

Each Friday, the campers go on a field trip. The Grove City group has traveled this summer to sites such as the Big Splash, COSI and Olentangy Indian Caverns.

Like children at all summer camps, youngsters who are attending the program in Grove City are having fun meeting new friends.

“I really like being here because you get to meet so many people from different places,” said Victoria Hernandez, 11, of Hilliard. “I’m making some new friends.”

Eder Zepeda, 12, of Columbus said he’s enjoying the chance to interact with students his own age and even the younger campers.

“You find out that little kids aren’t so bad. You can have a lot of fun with them,” he said. “Everybody gets along really well here. There aren’t any cliques or anything.”

It’s fun to be at camp, “because we get to play soccer almost every day,” said Eduardo Braca, 11, of Columbus.

He said he looks forward to the weekly field trips.

“Every week we get to go to a really fun place, like a trampoline park or the Big Splash,” he said. “The Big Splash was great because we got to cool off.”

More information about the coalition and its programs is available at ohiohispaniccoalition.org.

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