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Playground program helps keep kids out of trouble

Published 9/4/2012 in Local News : United Way

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories featuring the 21 agencies that will receive funding from the Finney County United Way in 2013.

BY ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

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Brad Nading/Telegram Moses Lares, 9, makes a toss to knock a competitor out of a dodgeball game in June at Scout Park during a Garden City Recreation Commission Summer Playground session.

Brad Nading/Telegram Moses Lares, 9, makes a toss to knock a competitor out of a dodgeball game in June at Scout Park during a Garden City Recreation Commission Summer Playground session.

Without the Summertime Playground program offered through the Garden City Recreation Commission, which receives a large chunk of its funding from the Finney County United Way, juvenile intake rates likely would increase.

In addition, the kids who benefit from the program wouldn't get the same connection to the community that they get through the program, according to United Way Executive Director Consuelo Sandoval and GCRC Assistant Superintendent Donna Gerstner.

The United Way provided $8,022 to the GCRC program this year, an amount that has remained level since the program started in 2006.

"They were gracious enough to do more work with the amount of money that we've given them," Sandoval said.

Sandoval also said that Gerstner and her staff's efforts in reaching kids who mighy otherwise fall through the cracks is a big reason for the program's success. With assistance from Sister Janice Thome of the Dominican Sisterhood in Garden City, Sandoval said, Gerstner has been able to target a segment of the population that might not otherwise have access to the program.

"Donna's really connected with sister Janice, so most of their referrals were from her because she does home visits, so she knew who the kids were who were sitting at home and how to get ahold of the parents to have them get consent," Sandoval said. "She (Gerstner) really strategizes about where these cracks were in juvenile activities. There's never enough for kids to do, and so at least she picked up that one segment that we can directly go back and say, 'Oh wow, it's really making a difference.'"

Gerstner said that while the program, which runs from the beginning of June through the end of July, would be able to function without United Way funding, its impact would be reduced dramatically.

"It would exist, but in a very small way. We had always ran a playground program. But in the past, we had only ran it at one site, and we just didn't get the numbers. There were a lot of children that just couldn't afford it. We probably had 45 to 50 kids in the program before, now there's close to 300 kids in it," Gerstner said. "I think if there wasn't a playground program, these kids would not have activites to do, and consequently, they would get in trouble. And we target the communities that we know there are children out there, unsupervised, where there are working parents, and we pick up kids there."

While the number of kids in the program has increased, juvenile intake rate has shown a significant decrease. Gerstner said that Tammy Sauceda, data analyst at the Garden City Police Department, has drawn a direct correlation between the program and the juvenile intake rate, which has dropped from 964 per year in 2006 to 779 in 2009.

"In 2009, June and July (the same months that summertime playground program takes place) had combined 49 youth detained, which is well below the monthly average of 64 per month," Gerstner said. "I'm not saying we're the only reason, but we can make a big case for that."

Sandoval said that the highest juvenile intake rates historically occur in those two summer months, since kids are out of school and often unsupervised while their parents are working.

"It's hard to evaluate behavior and measure those types of outcomes. United Way is all about outcomes and measuring behaviors, but there's one program you can directly go back and look at the juvenile intake rates," Sandoval said.

The GCRC provides transportation to the two parks, Finnup and Scout, picking up kids from Towns River View, Labrador Apartments and Burnside Drive, Gerstner said.

Because of grants and funding provided by the United Way and other local nonprofit organizations, the summer camp is free to children from kindergarten up to 13 years old and free lunches are provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's lunch program. Two groups of kids go to Finnup and Scout parks, and some go to East Garden Village, which is run by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties.

The kids participate in various types of activities, and members of community organizations, such as law enforcement, come speak to the kids, as well.

GCRC Recreation Specialist Amber Rogers is in charge of the program and hires high school and college students to instruct and supervise the kids.

"They get to be around college-and high school-aged individuals that are teaching the program, and it gives them something that, 'Hey, maybe this is something I can do when I get older and do something positive in the community. I don't have to work at Tyson or McDonald's.' And the big question they always ask is, 'How do you do this,' and we say 'Well you have to go to school, get good grades and be a good citizen, and that's how you get hired to do things like this,'" Gerstner said.

The United Way is in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign, with a goal of $550,000.

The 21 partner agencies for the 2013 campaign are the same as this year. They include: Miles of Smiles; Russell Child Development Center; Finney County RSVP; Kansas Children's Service League; Catholic Social Service; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Program; Smart Start; Playground Program; Family Crisis Services; Spirit of the Plains, CASA; The Salvation Army; Meals on Wheels; Habitat for Humanity; Garden City Family YMCA; Garden City Chapter of the Red Cross; Santa Fe Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America; Community Day Care Center; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties; and Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.

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