Kids Play (And Learn) All Summer Long at Summer Playgrounds Program
Tabatha Williamson was at church when she first learned about a free weekday supervised summer program at Evergreen Park on 4th Plain Blvd., not far from where she lives with her two children, Isabella (8) and Noah (9). It turned out to be the perfect childcare for her kids while she attends WorkSource to connect with better employment. Williamson is just one of many parents whose children have benefitted from safe, supervised and creative play during the summer for children ages 6-11 at Hough Elementary School, Evergreen Park, and Crestline Elementary School. The McClaskey Family Foundation Summer Playgrounds Program is administered by Vancouver Parks and Recreation with support from Share, which provides the food for lunches via USDA Summer Meals Program, and additional support from Parks Foundation of Clark County, Hough Foundation and, of course, the McClaskey Family Foundation, which funds the average $11 per day per child that it costs to provide programming Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. throughout the summer.
Last year alone, the Summer Playgrounds Program provided 3,500 meals to 259 individual children, and the program has seen a 34 percent increase in daily visits over 2018. Kids who attend the program (lovingly called “campers” by staff, who know each child by name) play games, make new friends, interact with Parks and Recreation staff, and even enjoy field trips a few times per summer to locations such as Jim Parsley Center and Marshall and Firstenburg Community Centers (all three conveniently located within walking distance of the host parks). The experiences are valuable and enriching, especially for many of the kids who live in poverty or whose parents experience language barriers that at times hinder them from providing activities for their children.
Program participation is free, but only kids living within certain demographic regions of the city are eligible. Registration for Crestline’s and Hough’s Summer Playgrounds are limited to children living within the Crestline Elementary School and Hough Elementary School respective boundaries. Registration for Evergreen Park’s program is reserved for children living within the Roosevelt, King, and Harney Elementary School boundaries. These locations were selected several years ago based on geographic location (serving westside, central, and eastside residents), and areas of highest need, said Andy Meade, center director of Marshall Community Center. “The impetus of this was [former Vancouver] mayor, Tim Leavitt, who at that time was a city council member, secured a grant to fund programs in the 4th Plain corridor,” Meade told me. “So we had established this site [Evergreen Park] and Waterworks Park as destinations in that corridor that would translate to areas that had the highest need. So that’s how Evergreen was established. Hough is a partnership with the Hough Foundation. And then Crestline was a site that was done in conjunction with the availability through Evergreen [Public Schools] wanting an eastside site. “
Dana C., who will enter 4th grade in the fall, attended Evergreen Park’s Summer Playground Program last year and is enjoying it again this year. She lives close enough to walk, so it’s convenient for her family, and she told me her favorite thing about the program is that “we get to have fun.” I spoke to Dana on a particularly special day for Evergreen Park campers: Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle and City Council member Ty Stober paid the park a visit to meet with Summer Playgrounds staff and campers. Mayor McEnerny-Ogle introduced herself and got right into taking questions from kids, which sparked discussions about safety, park cleanliness and civics. The event was just one example of the educational benefits of the program.
And parents are obviously seeing that benefit. All three McClaskey Family Foundation Summer Playground Program locations are currently full for summer 2019. “The max number of participants is dependent on how many staff we are able to hire within the budget for the program and the space we have at the park or school,” said Melody Burton, marketing manager for Vancouver Parks and Recreation, “so a waitlist is created whenever the demand is greater than what we can safely staff. As the need for this type of programming grows, Vancouver Parks and Recreation is working with donors, school districts and other community stakeholders to try and find ways to expand Summer Playgrounds to increase hours and add new sites throughout the city.”
Parents can call 360-487-7100 or stop by the front desk at Marshall Community Center to inquire about being added to a wait list or receiving information about future registration.
For kids who didn’t make the cut this summer, or for families who don’t live in the prescribed Summer Playgrounds boundaries, Play Time in the Parks is another similar, free outdoor program which also provides activities, food and staffing from Vancouver Parks and Recreation, but which doesn’t require registration, and functions on a drop-in basis. Play Time in the Parks is happening this year at Hearthwood Park on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Image Elementary School on Tuesday and Thursday, 12:30-3:30 p.m. (through August 19).