According to The Who, the “kids are alright,” but it never hurts to give them a little extra help. John George’s new project, Kidz Camp, aims to prove the old lyric right.
Kidz Camp will be headquarters for programs and opportunities already available in the Brightmoor/Old Redford neighborhood. From volunteering and employment to school help and recreation, it will incorporate all this and more for the kids.
A large part of the goal is to bring together and ground young people who already work for, or with, George at Detroit Blight Busters. There teenagers can earn a wage while giving back to the neighborhood by hand wrecking, deconstruction, and recycling in blighted areas.
“We teach them a trade and get them on the right path,” says George, CEO of Detroit Blight Busters, who has been hiring local kids to help in restoration projects since the 1990s.
There is more to Kidz Camp than working with Blight Busters. George also wants to create a space where neighborhood kids can get help with their schoolwork. The recent pandemic has laid bare many of the problems already lurking in the education system. One of the big ones is access to internet, which will be available to students on site.
“(Kidz Camp) give the youth access to things they might not have access to,” says George, “and teach them things they might not learn.”
There will also be mentors from the neighborhood and anywhere else who is qualified, available to help kids with schoolwork.
The kids will also work in nearby Farm City Detroit, where they will grow and pick produce, and learn more about nutrition.
In 2008, Blight Busters teamed up with Fertile Ground Collective to create Farm City Detroit. Since then, it has helped improve the neighborhood, employed 32 neighborhood youths, engaged more than 3,000 volunteers, and created a sustainable environment that fosters a mentoring environment for neighborhood youth.
To make sure the young people are serious, George requires them to first volunteer for 40 hours. There is no time limit to put in those hours, which allows them to compensate for school. If they stick it out, they are hired.
Much of the work begins on Friday morning at 9:00 a.m., at least for volunteers.
Word of mouth usually does a good job of bringing in new people, and many stay on into adulthood.
“You develop friendships and grow and develop relationships,” says George.
George was also instrumental in matching up kids with mural artist, Chazz Miller, who teaches them his craft. These young people will hopefully meet up at Kidz Camp as well.
While hard work and self-improvement are certainly at the heart of the program, there will also be a chance for good old-fashioned fun. The Wilson Company donated a shipping container full of balls for the kids.
George has made a name for himself as head of Detroit Blight Busters by tearing down, rebuilding, and renovating buildings. He has been hiring kids and young adults in the neighborhood for a few decades and has spoken to them about what they need and have experienced, and ultimately have them take the lead on projects.
“We want the youth to be involved in all parts of construction and planning,” says George.
Living up to Blight Busters reputation, this won’t be some slap-dashed club house. The building was designed by Matt Biglin, the architect who also designed The Obama building, a recently renovated retail space at Grand River and Lahser in Old Redford.
The building, at Orchard and Santa Clara Streets in Old Redford near Blight Busters headquarters, will have a solar panel, hemp installation, and water retention.
A donation from Carhartt made it possible to clear the property for construction.
The city is planning to add a loop, which will make access easier.
The plan was for Kidz Camp to open in 2020, but like so much else, COVID got in the way. Construction will pick up again in late spring or early summer, with a planned opening in August.