Friday, September 4, 2020

Be the Influence and Windham Parks and Recreation create banner for skate park

Be The Influence and Windham Parks and
Recreation worked with student campers
this summer to  create a banner for the
Windham Skate Park. Displaying the banner
from left are camper Molly Nelson, camp
counselor Archie Medina and camper Cynthia
By Elizabeth Richards
As the pandemic limits socialization among youth, the Be the Influence coalition continues to work towards its mission “to promote community collaboration and positive choices in reducing youth substance use.”
Providing healthy alternatives for youth is a key strategy, and coalition community partners play a big role in helping create opportunities for youth engagement.  This summer, campers at Windham Parks and Recreation helped finish a banner designed for the skate park.

BTI Executive Director Laura Morris said that the project was started with the goal of displaying it at the grand opening of the skate park.  The Parks and Recreation department had put together a skate park task force because they knew it was a good place for youth to be outside and making healthy decisions, Morris said.
"Even law enforcement had noticed that without the skate park, youth didn’t have an outlet, and so they were engaging in more risky behaviors than before,” Morris said. Be the Influence was helping with the skate park efforts and Morris said one thing they wanted was to get youth involved by creating a banner that would hang at the park. 
The idea came from a previous project, where BTI took a large banner to schools throughout Windham and Raymond and encouraged all youth to be part of it through health and art classes as well as after school. “When we did that, we saw a lot of youth come out of the woodwork that wouldn’t regularly engage in anything, but everyone could color” Morris said.
The skate park was a good reason to get kids engaged again, Morris said, but when COVID hit, the banner hadn’t been completed.  She contacted Parks and Recreation to see if their campers could finish it, which they agreed to do. “We all thought it would be a great way to engage youth,” Morris said.
Parks and Recreation Director Linda Brooks said that although the grand opening event where the banner was supposed to be displayed couldn’t happen as planned in the spring, the skate park has been open since June and is quite popular. The skate park efforts in the past couple of years were to provide something for youth who like to take risks and challenge themselves, Brooks said. “That is a healthier risk than some of the alternatives,” she said.  
Brooks has been involved with the coalition since she began with the department in 2015.  “We’ve tried to put a focus on keeping youth active in this community,” she said.
Their summer camp program, for instance, has a place for youth of all ages.  While some departments won’t hire high schoolers, she said, that is not a philosophy they share.  They offer a senior camper program for 14-year-olds, a CIT program for 15-year-olds, and hire students part time once they are sixteen and up.  This allows them to remain a part of that community all the way through, Brooks said. kids involved and healthy this summer required a lot of creative thinking said Kaleigh Warner, the middle school camp director for Windham Parks and Recreation.  Similar to previous years of summer camp, we pushed our campers to get outdoors as often as possible, but with a twist due to COVID restrictions to keep all our campers, staff, and families healthy and safe,” she said. 
“This summer we encouraged campers to connect with nature and to give back to the community,” Warner said.  Some of the ways this was accomplished was through exploring the cross-country trails and building forts; partnering with Toby Jacobs of the Black Brook Reserve in Windham to help clean up trails; and weekly scavenger hunts that required kids to collaborate and exercise their brains through puzzle/riddle solving, word scrambles, and hunting for clues both indoors and out, Warner said.
As a result of the pandemic and the lack of socialization, Morris said there has been a spike in both youth substance use and stress.  BTI had intended to offer programs in the schools around resiliency, refusal skills, and education about all substances in health classes, but that’s been put on hold.  Instead, Morris said, they hope to do a community event outdoors, with movies, activities around resilience, community building games and COVID safe physical activities, in conjunction with a resource fair to showcase resources available in the community.  “That’s what we’re thinking right now for the community, but we’re dying to get back into the schools,” Morris said.  “We know it’s a tough time for youth.” 
Be the Influence offers resources on their website,,  for addressing stress and anxiety regarding COVID-19. <

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