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Published: 6/6/2010

Hard times stir worries of restless summer

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Zak Karnowski, 16, performs a slick trick while his friend James Dickens, 15, captures it on video at the skate park in Highland Park in South Toledo. 
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<a href="http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100606/NEWS16/100609801" target="_blank "><font color=blue><b>Summer Activities Story: </font color=blue></b></a> What to do in Toledo Zak Karnowski, 16, performs a slick trick while his friend James Dickens, 15, captures it on video at the skate park in Highland Park in South Toledo. <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/weblink_icon.gif><b><font color=red> LINK:</b></font> <a href="http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100606/NEWS16/100609801" target="_blank "><font color=blue><b>Summer Activities Story: </font color=blue></b></a> What to do in Toledo
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Tyreonna McCulley, 12, reads to Ruth Alonso, 6, at the Toledo Boys and Girls Clubs program at Sherman Elementary School. Tyreonna McCulley, 12, reads to Ruth Alonso, 6, at the Toledo Boys and Girls Clubs program at Sherman Elementary School.
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Juan Johnson, 13, pitches during a game at the Toledo Boys and Girls Clubs program at Sherman Elementary School. Juan Johnson, 13, pitches during a game at the Toledo Boys and Girls Clubs program at Sherman Elementary School.
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School is out, signaling the time one can almost hear the cheers of delight as children abandon their classrooms for summer vacation.

But with nearly three months of school-free days ahead, and family budgets tighter than usual, some parents, neighbors - and even youngsters themselves - are wondering how they'll fill their time.

"I really don't know what there's going to be for the kids to do around here," Robin Sopko, an East Toledo resident and Block Watch leader, said. "We're already having a lot of car break-ins, kids walking the streets late at night. We have nothing for the older teenagers to do."

Marisela Montoya, 19, of North Toledo said most of the teenagers in her neighborhood do "nothing" during the summer, other than walk around the streets and drink. She said going to the movies or signing up for a gym is too expensive for many young people.

"I think there should be more stuff to do," Ms. Montoya said. "More stuff where you don't need money. Especially with nobody having jobs right now, it's hard to find things to do."

Not all kids are at loose ends.

Chaz Lewis, a 12-year-old South Toledoan, was riding his bike recently at the Highland Skate Park with some friends. Chaz said he plans to ride his bike and swim at a friend's pool during the summer. But he admits that he often gets bored as the weeks stretch on.

The city pool near his home is closed because of budget constraints, and he said the skate park can get crowded.

"I wish there were more skate parks," he said.

While many youngsters look forward to their summers off, budget cuts and the economic downturn have eroded some of the possibilities that used to be available to them.

Toledo Public Schools has dropped its summer school for elementary students. That program instructed some 350 children for 10 weeks. Public libraries are open fewer hours because of funding cuts. The city's budget crisis means recreation programs and swimming pool-openings are limited.

City-funded programs aren't the only ones hurting. Many nonprofit organizations that offer summer programs for youths are dealing with a drop in funding too.

Also, teens old enough to get summer jobs find themselves competing with adults desperate for work. That worries residents such as Beth Lewandowski, vice president of the Lagrange Village Council.

"When kids don't have enough to do and are idle, sometimes they get into trouble," she said. "There's always so many kids out there who need attention in the summer to keep them from roaming the streets."

Yet there's no reason for pessimism, said Kim Partin, director of the East Toledo Family Center. "There are definitely less dollars and less programs," she said. "But there are still activities out there for families and kids to take advantage of."

The quintessential summertime activity is swimming. The city of Toledo is opening six of its dozen pools this year, the same number as last year. That may not be enough to please everybody, but city spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said each council district should have an open pool.

Those pools - Willys, Pickford, Wilson, Jamie Farr, Navarre, and Savage - are scheduled to be open from June 21 through mid-August, although repairs could push back the dates.

Sherrie Shipman, the city's recreation manager said her department had lost funding for the pools because of the budget cuts but managed to plug the gap with grant money. The other pools won't open because they need too many repairs, she said. Two of the pools - Detweiler and Roosevelt - were rendered unusable because thieves broke in and stole the plumbing fixtures.

"We're going to do the best we can with what we have to work with," Ms. Shipman said.

The city is also running its usual sports programs: baseball, softball, coach pitch, and T-ball leagues, as well as tennis camps. Positions on the baseball and softball leagues have been filled, but parents can register children ages 8 and under for coach pitch and T-ball for ages 4 to 6 at Ottawa Park, 2201 Ottawa Pkwy.

Two other city-sponsored events include a fishing rodeo at Sleepy Hollow Park on July 10 and a visit from the Kelly Miller Circus in Friendship Park on Aug. 5.

Kids also can watch out for the YMCA's "Fun Bus," which will visit at least 11 parks and five public housing sites throughout the city regularly during the summer.

Staff on the bus will provide free healthy snacks and organized activities such as sports, board games, and crafts. The bus will spend several hours at each location and provide activities for all ages, including teens, said Darla Harris, fun bus activities supervisor.

"This is something that is structured. Something [the kids] can count on being there," Ms. Harris said. "It also means they can be outside rather than in the house on computers all day."

The Toledo area's 10 Metroparks are another low-cost summer resource. The parks provide numerous trails to explore, playgrounds, and organized activities for children and families throughout the summer.

Those include craft workshops, nature hikes, and canoe excursions, among others. A list of programs can be found on the Metroparks Web site metroparkstoledo.com or by picking up a brochure in a park.

Two of the parks - Swan Creek and Wildwood Preserve - are easily accessible by bus.

Metroparks spokesman Scott Carpenter said teenagers also can volunteer to help maintain and manage parkland.

"We always need their help," Mr. Carpenter said. "We will find things for teens to do if they're really interested in volunteering."

On a more academic note, children can bolster their literacy skills by participating in one of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library's summer-reading clubs. There are two clubs for children: "Make a Splash Read!" for preschoolers through fifth graders and "Make Waves at Your Library" for sixth through 12th graders.

Younger children are encouraged to read at least 15 minutes a day and receive prizes once they reach specified reading goals. Older children can enter into a drawing after each book they read and win prizes that include movie gift cards, Cedar Point tickets, a Kindle reader, and a Wii game system.

"The idea is to encourage children to read for fun over the summer," said Nancy Eames, the library's youth services manager. "The bonus benefit for kids is that they maintain their reading skills, so when they return to school in the fall they don't fall behind."

The clubs are unsupervised, but parents can get involved in choosing books and monitoring the time their children spend reading, Ms. Eames said.

The library system also hosts numerous programs and events throughout the summer.

A free guide called "Book Your Summer" can be found at library branches.

Community centers, churches, and other neighborhood organizations are also a good resource for affordable summer fun. The United Way's 211 help line can provide information on many of these.

Among them, the Boys and Girls Club of Toledo has four clubs open throughout the city. Two of those - the Homer Hanham Club on 2250 North Detroit Ave., and the East Toledo Club on 722 Second St. - have swimming pools. The clubs are open Monday through Friday during the day and provide drop-in activities including sports, crafts, swim lessons, and goal-setting. Three of the clubs have teen lounge spaces for older children. Club membership costs a few dollars a year.

Perhaps the most difficult activity for older youths to pursue this summer will be finding a job. Teen unemployment in Ohio is more than 20 percent, about double the overall jobless rate.

To help relieve the situation, the Lucas County Workforce Development Agency will administer a program to hire 1,000 youths ages 16 and 17 at various work sites across the county.

Participants, who would be paid $8 hourly, must live in a family that receives food assistance.

Agency Director Eric Walker admitted the program won't cover all teenagers. "There may be kids with nothing to do," he said. "It's tough."

But he said young people can take an entrepreneurial approach and find volunteer work, or part-time employment by baby-sitting, pet sitting, or helping the elderly.

To learn about baby-sitting, teens age 11-15 can attend American Red Cross baby-sitting clinics for $30, which will be held at Lucas County libraries throughout the summer.

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at:

cbarrett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.



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