- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - Kids just don’t play in the parks like they used to.

In a community with more than 40 parks and natural areas, that’s an ongoing topic of discussion for Decatur Park District leaders, who also worry about how to increase minority participation in their programs.

The conundrum caused park district Commissioner Stacey Young to approach Bruce Jeffery, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Decatur.

“You have the kids. We have the parks,” she told him. “Let’s make a partnership.”

And that’s the root of how Fairview Park came alive June 29 with 116 kids between the ages of 7 and 18, who rotated between walking the trails, running an obstacle course and playing kickball. Park district staffers joined the Boys & Girls Club workers in leading the activities.

The club will visit a different park each Wednesday this summer to try out various sports and amenities.

“A lot of our kids may not know of all the parks in Decatur, so it’s a good way of trying to expose the Boys & Girls Club members to a variety of parks that are here in the community,” Jeffery said.

Jamie Gower, director of recreation and facilities, said the visits were designed to keep the kids moving and introduce them to places and activities that might be unfamiliar. Next week, the club is scheduled to visit Cresthaven Park to try pickleball.

In addition, park district employees have visited the club this summer to offer lacrosse and soccer clinics.

“Some of these kids may not have the chance to get those type of sports, so that’s why it’s important,” Gower said. “We like to work with the public schools, and in the summer, this is a perfect venue for us.”

The park district provides lunches for the club through its free lunch program, which also serves kids in various neighborhood parks during the summer.

Club members Kani Carson, 9, and Janiya Smith, 11, both said they enjoyed their trip to Fairview.

Kani, who has been coming to the club programs for two years, said he especially liked jumping over a hurdle on the obstacle course, which he had never done before.

Janiya liked the course and also enjoyed playing kickball, which is among her favorite sports.

She’s been coming to the club for five years, in part because of the people leading it.

“The staff is really fun and they help you learn things,” she said. “And you can do sports and get better at it.”

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/29bVzhW

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Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com

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