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Published: Tuesday, 6/26/2007

At every Toledo stop, fun just begins

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Some want to color during a Fun Bus stop at Nathan Hale School while one young man finds a Hula Hoop intriguing. Some want to color during a Fun Bus stop at Nathan Hale School while one young man finds a Hula Hoop intriguing.
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The Fun Bus kicks a playground into hyperdrive.

Inside the 20-foot-long, retrofitted 2002 GMC minibus, staff have crammed summer into stacks of totes - from crayons and clay to board games and badminton.

There's Hula Hoops and hockey sticks, paints and puzzles, and of course, the obligatory litany of balls: basket, kick, volley, tennis, and raquet, to name a few.

"This is supposed to be 'Step out your front door, we're there,' " said Amy Seibenick, who - unintentionally underscoring the point that the venture is about fun and not work - is unsure of her official title.

"We're the Fun Bus people," she said with a shrug, stooping to look at a still-sticky sand art creation gripped by gluey, gooey little fingers.

Ms. Seibenick is one of three ever-in-motion Fun Bus staffers, whose work attire is tees and sneakers and who can't, don't, or simply won't, tolerate any summertime boredom.

It's all part of a joint venture between the YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo and the United Way of Toledo, both of which contributed $25,000 to the three-month program that runs through Aug. 20.

The idea sparked several months ago.

Organizers realized that the city of Toledo's budget crisis endangered its recreational activities. So it came as no surprise that only five of Toledo's 11 pools are open this summer.

The Fun Bus was ready.

"This is geared toward youth who are not involved in some positive activities," said Shantae Brownlee, director of the

Wayman Palmer YMCA, which has deployed its staff to supplement the Fun Bus staff when the crowds grow large.

"It gets us right in the neighborhoods."

The bus travels to 10 locations during the week.

Residents who don't first see the blast of color on wheels instead might hear it. Like an ice-cream truck, it blasts a continuous loop of music: the Village People's classic "YMCA," of course.

By last week, Lakeisha Owens had taken her 8 and 10-year old daughters to the Fun Bus three times.

She relaxed in the shade - she'd just finished a night shift as a pharmacy technician - as the girls used the arts and crafts tables.

For Shanyah Owens, 10, the best part of the Fun Bus is "the chips."

Staff tote around several gallons of water and bagged refreshments.

Wait, check that.

Shanyah pondered again, glancing at her mom, who just a few days ago joined in a Fun Bus boys-versus-girls kickball game - an impromptu match that staff confirmed has triggered a summerlong tourney.

"We're going to play kickball again and we're going to kick those boys' butts," Shanyah declared.

Back at the United Way and YMCA/JCCC offices, number-crunchers hope to make contact with at least 5,000 preteens this summer, Ms. Seibenick said.

But at the Fun Bus, with a brilliant blue sky overhead, success is measured differently.

As several older boys shoot baskets nearby, about a dozen youngsters cram around four tables already piled with glitter and sand and a tangle of plastic braiding twine.

And it's not certain if the sun-baked clay smudges will ever come clean.

J'Vann Winfield - Fun Bus staffer by summer, art teacher by school year - doesn't mind the mess: "That's how we know they're having fun."

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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