El Campito's empty lot turning into a recreational area for the community of South Bend

NOW: El Campito’s empty lot turning into a recreational area for the community of South Bend

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A day of volunteering took place on Saturday from 9-12 p.m. on Thomas St. in an effort to bring the community a new playground, a butterfly garden and a space to grow agricultural products.

Notre Dame student volunteers and community members teamed up together to turn an empty lot into a place where Michiana can visit and enjoy.

More than 75 volunteers from the El Campito staff, board of directors, community members and Notre Dame students helped out with a variety of tasks such as trash clean ups, planting a new garden and more. 

The Notre Dame engineering project management class has previously partnered up with El Campito for over a year now to help expand projects like these in the community where it’s much needed. 

They plan the details, fill out paperwork, and find grants before implementing the whole engineering plan - with the goal to make a difference.

 The students installed an irrigation system for the new Mrs. Nino’s garden on El Campito’s empty lot. 

And, it's all thanks to many grants from the community that got the job done, one being PNC Bank that awarded them with a $10,000 dollar grant to expand the nature space for the community and most importantly, the kids. 

“We’re really excited for the kids to be able to get involved, we’re setting up like a playground and I know a lot of the families will get involved with the community garden and it will just be a nice place for the community to get able to gather,” said Noah Mader, Notre Dame student. 

The non-profit organization ‘El Campito’ has been around for about 51 years and is still making a difference today in honor of Mrs. Nino who the garden will be named after. 

Also, the El Campito’s Director of Development and Community Outreach Emily Hernandez says that the pandemic has caused a pause on normal childhood things. 

One being the increase use of technology, which is why El Campito is bringing awareness to the importance of letting kids get outside in nature.

“Children that have adverse childhood experiences they might be coming from before the poverty lines, more trauma in their lives. There’s a ton of research that says when they dig in dirt and they see things grow, it is a healing property for them. And, unfortunately a lot of our kids that we help fall in that category,” said Emily Hernandez, Director of Development and Community Outreach for El Camito. 

El Campito is a community driven non-profit that has been around for about 51 years ago -- to help the underserved communities that face disadvantages. 

 It all started with the founder Mrs. Nino who helped migrant farm workers kids in her home and turned a 3-month helpful gesture into 51 years of dedication and education. 

 After a year of the pandemic, the long-term effects on kids aren’t known yet- but a space like this will help get kids back into the dirt which studies have shown to have a positive impact on childhood development. 

Hernandez says they are educating their students and parents on the importance of spending time outdoors in areas like these. 

“For our kids, our parents know that they're going to come home with dirt under their fingernails, they're going to have some washable paint on their clothes, and they might paint with their feet some days, they might use real hammers in class because we want to give them real experiences. And, we see the social emotional growth and executive functions happen when they have those real experiences,” Hernandez said. 


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