The Spokane Valley Parks and Recreation Department is never sure whether four or 40 children will show up for a free summer parks program session, so its staffers have to go with the flow.
This summer the city is offering free recreation programs Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at Terrace View Park, 13525 E. 24th Ave., and Valley Mission Park, 11123 E. Mission Ave. Hours are from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. at Greenacres Park at Boone Avenue and Long Road. Children can get free breakfast at 9 a.m. and lunch at noon at Terrace View and Valley Mission.
Kids play games, make crafts and participate in other activities. The free meals are provided by the East Valley School District.
Jordan Minnihan, 13, was one of two children to show up for breakfast Wednesday at Terrace View. The previous day there had been 10 children.
“In the morning it’s usually calm,” he said.
He comes to the park for the free activities while his cousins have swim lessons. He played card games with Parks and Recreation intern Glen Reser while they waited for more kids to show up.
Minnihan said his favorite game is dodgeball. “I’m a good dodger,” he said. “I’m a good thrower, but I don’t hit my target.”
If he hadn’t been at the park, Minnihan said, he would have been sitting at home watching television.
At 10 a.m. Donita Hansen brought five of her grandchildren to the park, and there were finally enough people to set up a game of dodgeball in the grass. Hansen said she usually brings the five, and sometimes a sixth, to the park every day. “This is our third year,” she said.
The kids like to come because they have fun with Reser, she said. “He does a really nice job with the kids,” she said. “They like coming, and they keep coming.”
Hansen usually brings her grandchildren at 10 a.m. and waits in her car or in the park while they play and have lunch. “I would rather be here sitting with them than have them at home in front of the Xbox,” she said.
The free program is something of a secret even though it has been running for nearly a decade, said city Recreation Coordinator Jennifer Papich. “Every year people say they had no idea,” she said. “They’re always so grateful and amazed that there’s something free.”
The program is not designed as a day camp or a day care, Papich said. Children are not required to sign in or out, and there’s usually only one staffer at each park. Some parents stick around while their children play, but it’s not required.
Papich said she tells parents that if they wouldn’t normally let their child go to the park alone it might be best to stay. “It’s like an added bonus to coming to the park,” she said. “There are a lot of kids that come from the neighborhood.”
Overall the program is well used, she said, although bad weather can knock down attendance. A staffer is always there during the scheduled hours, no matter the weather, in case someone shows up, she said.
Each park’s program has a different flavor, Papich said. Kids at Terrace View tend to like games while children at Valley Mission go for arts and crafts. Greenacres Park attracts a younger crowd, including preschoolers, she said.
The meals at Terrace View and Valley Mission are available to all children age 18 and under but it is the elementary students who primarily participate in the free activities. “Every once and a while you’ll get a middle schooler,” she said. “You get the regulars that come.”
The program continues through Aug. 15.