A.C.T. brings the community together
December 28, 2007
Six-year-old Gabby Silva helped her cousin, four-year-old Alexia Silva squirt Elmer’s Glue onto cotton balls. The girls were making snowman crafts at the A.C.T. (Agencies Coming Together) holiday celebration at Parkside Apartments Thursday.
"I like putting all these cotton balls on because they’re very soft," Gabby Silva said.
"I like coloring the hats," Alexia Silva said.
Events like these where A.C.T. brought crafts and activities to Parkside began last June, said Veronica Monroy, manager at Parkside in Park City and Meadow View Apartments in Kamas. When she first started working at Parkside, she said the kids were running wild doing things like breaking sprinklers and damaging apartment units. Monroy approached A.C.T. during one of its meetings last spring to ask for help.
"Veronica told us she had all these kids who didn’t have anything to do, so we got together to figure out how to we could help," said Heather Reynolds, Park City Youth Services Librarian and A.C.T. member.
A.C.T. began hosting events at Parkside Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 5 p.m. They wanted to bring the activities to the apartments, according to Park City Recreation Supervisor Jessica Moran, because transportation can be a problem for the kids.
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The summer program was a success, Monroy said. "Usually I would talk to them, (the kids) and they wouldn’t listen to me," she said. "A lot of the kids didn’t want to go to school, and after these events, they began to want to go to school to learn English and to play with other kids."
For Monroy, learning English was one of the greatest unforeseen benefits of the program. "Before they would only talk with kids who spoke Spanish, but with these activities they have to speak with everyone."
Parkside maintenance worker Ramon Silva said he has seen an improvement in the children’s behavior as well. "It’s great because it gives them new things to do," he said. "They’re staying out of trouble, which is great because I have to fix the things around here. I just wish they had it every day."
After school started, A.C.T. recognized that there was still a need for the program to continue, Reynolds said. "Parents and kids were asking when we were coming back."
Since the 2007-2008 school year started, the group has hosted a Halloween party and two holiday celebrations, one at Aspen Villas Apartments and one at Parkside, but they wanted a more permanent solution. To accomplish this, A.C.T. decided to write a grant for the United Way through Holy Cross Ministries.
The group hopes to turn the "Apartment Kids Program" into a year-round program, meeting twice a week in the summer and twice a month in the winter, serving 200 kids at four low-income Park City apartment complexes: Parkside, Aspen Villas, Elk Meadows and Iron Horse.
Park City Museum Curator of Education and A.C.T. member, Johanna Fassbender, said that a lot of the organizations in A.C.T. have been going to these apartment complexes on their own to do activities. She visits Aspen Villas to show the kids old photographs, do a craft, and talk about the history of Park City, including what it was like to be a miner.
"If we all work together," she said referring to the members of A.C.T., "it’s much easier, and we can do something once a week, instead of once a month."
According to Judy Sobin, Regional Director for the United Way of Summit County, A.C.T. must turn in its grant proposal by Jan. 11. Sobin is a member of A.C.T., but she says she has no final say in grant approval. She said the Leadership Council for the United Way makes those decisions.
Putting the grant together has taken a lot of decision making by A.C.T. as well. "We have had to really start thinking about the details," Fassbender said. The group is working out all the logistics of the program like how many hours they can spend at each complex and how much money they will need for supplies.
Through this process the group has come up with several goals for the program. "We want to take them on the bus and show them how to get to places like the museum and the library and the recreation building and the Boys and Girls Club, so they can become familiar with those places and how to get there," Fassbender said. "We want to let them know what’s out there in the community and help them to feel comfortable with going to those places."
Sobin said the overriding mission of A.C.T. is to find ways to bring people together and to make sure the Park City community is united.
For Reynolds, these holiday celebrations embrace that mission. "To me, it’s just being a part of the community and including everybody, even the kids who don’t have transportation," she said.
McPolin Elementary School fifth-grader Mariana Hinojos said she’s not sure if she would be able to come to the holiday celebration if it was not at the complex. "It’s nice because it’s right by my house," she said.
Her friend and classmate, Melissa Aguilar, agreed, "because then you don’t have to beg your parents to take you there."
The girls were smiling and chatting with each other as they decorated their snowmen. Hinojos said she likes coming to parties like these because you get to hang out with your friends. Aguilar chimed in "and there’s lots of colors to work with and we get to be creative."
Janet Riqueno, whose daughter Blanca and son Justin were at the holiday celebration, said it was nice that the party was so close. "It’s really fun to be here," she said as Aguilar translated. "It gives the kids education. They get to be inventive."
Ecker Hill International Middle School sixth-grader Maria Diaz said her favorite part was making the snowman "because once you get creative, you don’t know what it’s going to turn out like."
Diaz was waiting in line outside the laundry room to get her face painted. Her friends talked her into doing it. "Sometimes you don’t want to do something, and they (your friends) do, and then you end up doing it and it is really fun."
Moran said at the Aspen Villas’ holiday celebration the kids were really shy about getting their faces painted at first, but by the end, they had it all over their faces.
Having the party at Parkside was a little more challenging than at Aspen Villas, Fassbender said, because of lack of space. For the party, kids and volunteers gathered in Parkside’s small office to do crafts and spilled out into the laundry room for face painting.
In the office, children stood shoulder-to-shoulder around a small table to make snowmen, some even worked on Monroy’s desk. In the laundry room, kids sat on top of washers and dryers, licking candy canes and getting their faces painted.
"It doesn’t really matter where you have it," Fassbender said looking around the tiny office space, "as long as everyone is still having a good time."
Monroy said that while she wishes they had a bigger room to host A.C.T. events, the kids have fun anyways. "What’s good is that the kids like it, and they keep coming back," she said.
Gabby Silva said she enjoyed the holiday celebration "because I like going to parties. You get to do stuff and we play together."
But she wasn’t always so enthusiastic. "The first time she came here she was crying and didn’t want to come or do anything," Ramon Silva said, patting the top of Gabby Silva’s head. "But now she came all by herself."
The agencies involved in putting on the holiday celebrations were Park City Recreation, the Park City Library, the Park City Historical Society and Sobin from the United Way. Additional A.C.T. organizations that are a part of the proposed Apartment Kids Program are Basin Recreation, Girl Scouts, Peace House and Holy Cross Ministries. All of these organizations are a part of the group A.C.T., which is working to inform and integrate children into the youth programs offered in Park City.