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Urban Campouts for a Cause: Bellaire and West U’s Beloved Traditions

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Tents in Town

The Bellaire Water Tower looking down at lots of family fun and matching Tents in Town t-shirts.

The next time you are enjoying the lush parks in Bellaire and West University, take an extra moment to really appreciate these neighborhood gems and all the people who made them a reality...including hundreds of families who have slept on the ground overnight to make it happen. Say hello to urban camping for a good cause: Bellaire’s Tents in Town event and West University’s Fathers & Flashlights event. 

My family and I are proud alumni of Tents in Town, which is coordinated by Bellaire's Patrons for the Parks. There’s something both exhilarating and hilarious about seeing 100 tents of all colors, shapes, and sizes set up on the Great Lawn in Bellaire Town Square behind City Hall. A giant slumber party with your neighbors and to add to the fun, we all wear matching t-shirts!

Is it glamping? No. But a .7 mile road trip to your “campgrounds,” someone else cooking dinner and breakfast, and having your kids gleefully entertained for 19 hours is an awesome gig. 

2014 Tents in Town

Ben Dauber, Ethan Kayl, Thomas Fuller, and Donovan Meade are all smiles at the 2014 Tents in Town.

Some “you can’t make this stuff up” camping moments our family experienced over the years: The cheap thrill of walking around Bellaire City Hall in your pajamas and sharing the ladies’ bathroom to brush your teeth with your fellow campers. You hear a strange sound in the bushes. Is it a raccoon? No! It’s just the Rec Center’s air conditioner compressor kicking on. Your husband says he is going home to “check on the dog,” which ends up meaning sleeping at our house. Your child pokes you awake in the middle of the night to have you identify a mysterious noise? Maybe a bear? You don’t recognize the sound. But then you realize it’s just the whir of cars racing around the 610 Loop. 

Last year, organizers got creative and turned Tents in Town 2020 into a virtual camping experience due to Covid. Kids were encouraged to camp in their backyards. Campers received goody bags with crafts, and ingredients to make s’mores at home. A Bellaire librarian read a bedtime story via Zoom. That was fun, but everyone is excited to be back in person for 2021. 

Collins family

Mike and Jacky Collins and their boys taking a hula hoop and bounce house break during a past Tents in Town event. 

Tents in Town 2021 takes place Sat., Nov. 13, 2 p.m.-Sun., Nov. 14, 9 a.m. Activities include a hula hoop contest, climbing wall, putt-putt golf, silly string war, a magic show and visits from the Bellaire Police and Fire Departments and their vehicles. And parents will love a new treat for adult campers: chair massages! 

One of my favorite Tents in Town traditions is that, once it gets dark, Houston Astronomical Society members set up giant, super powerful telescopes on the tennis courts. They explain which planets or stars attendees are seeing in the viewfinder and bring stepstools so tiny stargazers can take a peek, too. It is just one of many special moments when campers forget they are in the middle of a big city.

Wilson Grant, a ’20 graduate of Episcopal High School, reflected, “I loved going with my friends to Tents in Town every year when I was a kid. I liked that it was my first sort of taste of freedom. My friends and I got to set up our tents next to each other and make little communities. It was great getting to meet a bunch of people who lived near me.”

Tents in Town co-chairs

Tents in Town co-chairs Sheetal Dalwadi-Oza, Amisha Jay Dalwadi, and Patrick Durio kept everything running smoothly in 2019 and 2020. They're looking forward to an awesome 2021 event. 

This year’s Tents in Towns co-chairs are Amisha Jay Dalwadi, Sheetal Dalwadi-Oza, and Patrick Durio. Tents in Town is open to all zip codes. Spaces are still available but filling up fast. The registration deadline is Thurs., Nov. 11. Tickets are $150/family of 4 campsite; $40/single adult; $20/single child. Register here.

West University's annual Fathers & Flashlights urban camp out was held Oct. 23-24, 2021 on the fields surrounding West University Elementary School. The popular neighborhood tradition is coordinated by The Friends of West University Parks. Dads sleep in tents overnight and spend quality time with the kids. Moms work a volunteer shift then enjoy sleeping in a comfy bed and having the house to themselves!

Ponchos at Fathers & Flashlights

A little rain didn't stop the Fathers & Flashlights party – ponchos and smiles to the rescue! (Photo: Lauren DeFrehn Photography)

Even with a bit of rainy weather and mud, this year’s campers still enjoyed lots of laughter and silliness. Rain ponchos were passed out and became the hot fashion. After the wetness subsided, everyone celebrated when a rainbow appeared.

Fun activities included lawn games, a petting zoo, face painting, a tie-dye T-shirt station, inflatables and much more.

Kirk Waller, a ’21 graduate of St. John’s School, recalled, “I went to Fathers & Flashlights a few times, but the most memorable moment was my first one when my dad [Greg Waller] taught me how to swing on the swing set. I’m not sure why but I still remember that, and it was a really great bonding moment. I always looked forward to the event every year!”

Fathers & Flashlights event chairs

2021 Fathers & Flashlights event chairs (pictured, from left) Katie Hill, Michelle Huth, Sarah Knysh and their families made sure everyone had a great time. (Photo: Lauren DeFrehn Photography)

This year’s co-chairs were Katie Hill, Michelle Huth, and Sarah Knysh and their families. Fathers & Flashlights is open to families zoned to West University Elementary School. Stay tuned for details for the 2022 Fathers & Flashlights event.

Both of these successful community fundraisers appreciate the sponsors, underwriters, and participants whose support contributes to Bellaire and West University staying green and family-friendly, which makes everyone a happy camper. 

  • Petting zoo

    Kids checking out the animals in the petting zoo, one of many fun activities at Fathers & Flashlights 2021. (Photo: Lauren DeFrehn Photography)

  • Climbing wall and silly string

    Tents in Town campers had fun conquering the climbing wall and getting silly with silly string at a past event.

  • Petting zoo
  • Climbing wall and silly string

Petting zoo

Kids checking out the animals in the petting zoo, one of many fun activities at Fathers & Flashlights 2021. (Photo: Lauren DeFrehn Photography)

Climbing wall and silly string

Tents in Town campers had fun conquering the climbing wall and getting silly with silly string at a past event.

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