Ten-year-old Tristen Howington moves his knight into place and declares “checkmate.” His opponent, 9-year-old Steven Porter, shrugs and starts putting the pieces back in the box so the two can go climb on the playground.
The two boys had never met before Monday morning when they became instant friends at Take It to the Park. The city-sponsored program offers free arts, crafts and games at tables west of the Hutchins Street Square playground.
It will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday until July 15. The camp will be closed July 4 for the holiday.
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, organizer Heather Chappell said.
“We have parents who come and relax underneath the tree and do arts with the kids. We encourage parent interaction with the kids because they love it, too,” she said.
Last year, the city had about 40 kids on average show up each day, Chappell said.
Howington said this was his first time attending and he came with a friend. He really enjoyed playing chess and basketball.
“At home, I’d be laying on the couch and watching TV. I wanted to get outside and get some exercise,” he said.
The program is in its second year, and Chappell said she picked some of the kids’ favorite activities from last year to have as permanent craft tables. There is a table for board games, one for watercolor painting and glitter, and one for yarn and beads to make bracelets.
This year, she is also having a table with a different activity every day, for kids who come multiple days during the week.
“We encourage the kids to keep busy and we have games that we set up for them. We just want to keep them out of trouble,” Chappell said.
On Monday morning, Jeannie Sweeney and Donna Lang watched their two granddaughters run around on the playground.
This was the first year they went to the camp, and Lang said it was important for the kids to have something to do over summer break.
“With the economy the way it is, parents have to find activities so the children have something to do because money is tight,” she said.
The city was able to continue the program this year thanks to a $500 grant from Geweke Auto Group, said Diane Amaral, program coordinator for the Division of Arts and Culture. The camp is still looking for donations of crafting supplies or money.
Amaral said she hopes to expand the program to more parks, so kids will be able to enjoy the activities in their own neighborhoods. She said parents have told her they are surprised the city can offer something for free.
Four-year-old Viviana and six-year-old Lily were focused on their art Monday, as they shook glitter onto a piece of paper. Their mom, Theresa Cahue, said she lives nearby, and they walked to the park. She found out about the camp when her daughter brought home a flyer from her school.
“She is in kindergarten, so I was hoping she would see friends from school and make new friends because she is real shy. It’s a good way for them to socialize,” Cahue said.
After helping a girl knit yarn using her fingers, Chappell said she works as a librarian at Creekside, Elkhorn and Podesta elementary schools during the rest of the year. She knows many of the kids at the camp from her job, and her nieces and nephews also come with her regularly.
“I’m here for the kids, and I love doing it,” she said.