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Take It to the Park: Free summer fun for Lodi kids

City-run program seeks donations of sports and craft supplies, as well as teen volunteers

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Posted: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 8:53 am, Tue Jun 5, 2012.

Five-year-old Clayton Morris stares as Heather Chappell starts a “tiger’s eye” with popsicle sticks and yarn. She starts to hand it to him, and he immediately protests, “I don’t know how to do it.”

But after a few seconds of coaching, his fingers are nimbly wrapping the yarn.

For six weeks this summer, children can take advantage of free crafts and sports activities at Take It to the Park, a city-sponsored program located west of the Hutchins Street Square playground.

“It’s hard to compete with video games, and kids need to get out in the sunshine and outside. Everyone has a kindergartner in them,” Chappell said.

The program is for kids up to age 11 and is unstructured. Parents, grandparents or caregivers are encouraged to come, but if kids are old enough to be at the park by themselves, they can be dropped off with a lunch to enjoy the activities, Chappell said.

The program will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday until July 13. The camp will be closed July 4 for the holiday.

The program relies on donations of supplies for the crafts and games. For an entire summer, the program costs $3,000 for staffing, which is paid for through grants from Geweke Auto Group and Lodi Arts Foundation, said Diane Amaral, program coordinator for the Division of Arts and Culture.

Every day this year, there will be a new project for kids to work on, like making puppets and holding a puppet show, painting wood, and teaching the kids how to knit with needles.

Next week, there will be crafts geared toward creating Father’s Day gifts.

There also will be the everyday staples like lanyards, finger knitting and beading.

“This year we want it to be more structured to fit more in for the kids, because we have kids who come every year and every day, so we want to mix it up,” Chappell said.

The program is geared for both younger children and their older siblings. Chappell also encourages high-schoolers to volunteer and help the kids with crafts.

“We get a lot of little kids, so we focus on simple crafts to help develop their motor skills. But we also have older siblings, so we can always adjust it to make it fit to their age group,” Chappell said.

Morris has a brother and a sister, and their mom said the program gives them something affordable to do during the day, because camps can be expensive.

Chappell finds that a lot of families with multiple siblings have come to depend on Take It to the Park over the last three years.

“I’m sure summers are hard for parents because they have to work, so they need to have a free activity to come outside and play,” she said.

One of the goals this year is to incorporate more sports, so they are looking for basketballs, footballs, kickballs and any other sports equipment. They also need pieces of wood to paint, lanyards, pony beads, felt pens, markers, pipe cleaners, fuzzy pom poms, googly eyes, fun foam and other items.

“We have a staff that can create anything out of anything, so we are recycling and reusing a lot,” Chappell said.

Chappell echoed the need for donations, not just during the summer but year-round.

“We have families who donate throughout the year when they clean up around the house, and we depend on the donations,” she said.

One of the other main goals is to expand the program to other parks in the future.

“We get a lot of walkers so the more parks we are at the better,” Amaral said.

Both Amaral and Chappell said they are looking for donations or corporate sponsorships to help the program expand to other parks.

“For a six-week program, it’s awesome just to know that you can drop in (and) don’t have to pay anything,” Amaral said. “Where do you get anything for free these days?”

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.

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