- Associated Press - Monday, July 21, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A lava monster regularly invades the John F. Kennedy Elementary School playground.

Kids from around the neighborhood band together to gang up against the creature.

Lava monster is a vamped-up version of tag, where the monster is “it” and has to try to tag the other players. If the monster is on the ground, he or she can have eyes open, but if they step on the playground equipment, their eyes must be closed.

It is just one example of the games kids gather almost every weekday to play at 20 different playgrounds throughout Sioux Falls as part of the Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation Playground Program.

Low technology and high fun is how Susie Garry promotes the program to children.

Garry, Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation program coordinator, manages the supervised outdoor program for kids ages 7 to 12.

Seventy years after the program began, it will receive national attention in October when Garry will be a featured speaker at the National Recreation and Park Association Congress in Charlotte, North Carolina. The NRPA is a nonprofit organization that showcases the efforts of local public parks, recreation and conservation programs from around the nation.

To have such a longstanding outdoor program, Garry said, is rare in a city the size of Sioux Falls. She learned early in her career while attending national conferences that more heavily populated areas are sometimes thought to be unsafe, so outdoor programs can be cut out.

“There are communities out there where … taking recreation to people seems to be a new concept,” Garry told the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/1mVw04n ).

In Sioux Falls, 14 staff members work in seven parks each weekday throughout the summer.

The staff members meet at 8:30 a.m. every day and venture off in vans filled with board games, crafts and kick balls.

At the John F. Kennedy Elementary School playground recently, seven neighborhood kids came to play. They played active games like lava monster, capture the flag and scrubs, and board games.

Hannah and Imara Jacquemart, 11 and 9, come to the JFK playground about three times each week to get out of the house.

“I like coming here to spend time with my sister and meet new people,” Imara said.

Hannah likes to come to meet new friends and make crafts. She made a cape a few weeks ago.

Imara made a very special craft: a friendship bracelet to give to her friend who is in the hospital with cancer. She hoped the bracelet will make her friend feel better.

Jackson White, 9, also comes almost every day.

“I like learning new games, meeting new friends and getting exercise,” Jackson said.

Attractions such as the Great Plains Traveling Zoo, original crafts and old-school board games make the program stand out, Garry says.

Garry’s presentation at the conference is part of a section titled “Mobile Recreation: Getting Children (and Adults) to Play Outside.” This session highlights how park and recreation programs provide undeserving neighborhoods with access to outdoor recreation.

“Sioux Falls’ program is part of this panel session because of the success of their program. … (It) was identified as an exemplary program that others can model and learn from,” said Lauren Hoffmann, Senior Public Relations and Communications manager for National Recreation and Park Association.

Garry is excited to attend the conference and hear what other parks and recreations professionals have to say about their programs.

“That’s how you keep things going,” Garry said. “You keep learning.”

___

Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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