Niles parks program alternative to television for kids

Published 4:47 pm Saturday, June 12, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Though rainy weather caused cancellations of Niles 2004 Summer Park Program on Thursday and Friday, the program was still able to get things started with its first day on Wednesday.
The free nine-week program, which takes place at Eastside, Southside and Clevenger parks, officially kicked off this week with about 130 kids enrolled so far.
With activities like kickball, baseball, arts and crafts and playing on playground equipment, there was a wide variety of ways for the children to spend their time.
Park Program director Joe Racht has been working with the program for five consecutive years, this being his first year as director.
Racht, who recently graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in elementary education, said all 12 of the program's supervisors and counselors are planning to pursue careers working with children. Most will be going into education and one of the employees wants to be a pediatrician.
Racht said one of the big benefits of the program is the organization and supervision it provides for the children.
By giving the kids place to socialize and make new friends, Racht said the program is also helpful to kids who have recently moved to the area and kids who will be starting at a new school next year.
As the end of the first day grew near and the sun continued to beat down, a majority of the kids at Southside Park took refuge in the shade by sitting in the covered picnic area to play games like checkers and mancala.
It was a similar scene at Eastside Park. While a small group of kids tried to organize a baseball game, many of the children finished up the day by doing arts and crafts and playing cards in the shade of the park's picnic area.
Eastside Park's program supervisor Heather Racht, who is married to Joe Racht, is now in her fourth year with the program and thinks it offers a fun alternative to a typical summer day for many kids.
Ballard Elementary fourth grader Tyler Bybee agreed that it was a fun way to spend the summer.
Throughout the summer, the program will be taking the kids on a number of field trips including possible visits to the Niles-Buchanan YMCA., Fernwood Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, Madeline Bertrand Park and Curious Kids Museum to name a few.
The staff and children will be taking their first field trip on Friday with a visit to the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, Ind.
Another field trip is a fishing excursion to Spaulding Lake Campground facilitated by the Niles City Police Department.
Niles City Police neighborhood liaison officer Kevin Kosten stopped by Eastside Park on the first day to discuss the police department sponsored fishing trip.
Over a three to four week period, Kosten will be taking groups of 10 out to the campground to go fishing until each of the registered kids gets a chance to go.
He said another benefit of being involved with the parks program is that he gets to know a lot of the children in the community.
Enrollment forms will be accepted all summer long and are available at each of the three participating parks.