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Illinois Parks & Recreation
May/June 1995 • Volume 26, Number 3

We' re Going to Disney world!

by Kathleen Gartland
Teens from Commercial Park enjoy "Teen Day" at Great America's Frightfest.

That famous slogan will soon be shouted from 60 inner-city teens as they complete their leadership program with the Chicago Park District. For many of us, a trip to Disneyworld is a family vacation. For these teens, a trip to Disneyworld is a once-in-a-life- time chance to see the world outside of their community. Through help from the Chicago Park District, these teens will get that chance.

The teen leadership program is designed for inner city youth, ages 13-17 years, as an exposure to positive experiences outside their environment. Our program objectives are simple: to promote and increase the involvement of teens with the Chicago Park District; to develop good habits in the youth in the areas of studying, community service and positive work ethics; to keep them active and off the streets away from the many influences of gangs and drugs; to create positive role models of the community and future leaders; and finally, to raise enough funds so that every teen who successfully completes the program can go to Florida's Disneyworld and Epcot Center.

The program currently operates at seven parks on the near north side of the city. The parks are situated in very culturally diverse communities, many in very low economic areas. Staff at each of these parks oversee the program, which is broken down into five core areas:

1) Grading System (50%) — Every teen must maintain a "C" average in all classes throughout the school year.

2) Tutoring (20%) — Every teen must participate in tutoring programs offered at their park or schools.

3) Participation (10%) — Participation in any park district activities (athletic or cultural) either at the local park level or city wide level.

4) Volunteerism (10%) — Every teen must volunteer toward services and programs at their park and in their community, i.e. coach a youth team, participate in local food drives, shovel walks, recycle, etc.

5) Fund Raising (10%) — Each teen will participate in fund raising activities organized by staff and teens with funds going to the Florida trip upon the conclusion of the program. It is important that we, as staff, understand the teens we are working with in this program. Individuals within the teen clubs will respond and participate differently depending on external and internal variables in their lives. Staff working in this program have to be flexible but fair, as well as understanding and focused on the goals of program.

A similar program was conducted several years ago at two of these parks to rave reviews from the teens and their families. To many of these teens, earning and enjoying the trip to Florida changed their life and how they saw their future. We decided in our region to expand upon this program, incorporating more parks, more staff, more teens and certainly more money. We applied for grant money within our own agency for $30, 000. This grant funding is given to staff and/ or communities who present innovative programs not currently offered within the system (Chicago Park District). We were fortunate to receive the funding and began the program in September 1994. Our budget is set up to provide funding for recreational activities, exciting teen trips, artists, special events, t-shirts and costs toward the Florida trip which will culminate the program in August 1995. Our first kickoff event for the program was a trip to Great America's Frightfest on teen day. We charged the teens $5 per ticket and subsidized the rest from the grant. Much to our surprise, 250 teens from the seven parks signed up and it was a great day. We packed up six buses and sent them off for the day. Over 80% of the teens on the trip have never been to Great America. What a great way for the park district to give these teens an opportunity to enjoy recreation! It also helped staff get motivated to bring these teens back to the parks.

We organized our second event in November as an activ-

38* Illinois Parks & Recreation* May/June 1995

ity and fund raiser. The teen leaders hosted a rollerskating party selling tickets for their park clubs. The park district paid for the skating rink, as well as seven buses hired to transport the teens from the parks to the skating party. We hired CoCo Cortez, a disc jockey with B96. She spoke, signed autographs and gave away promotional B96 materials. She also grew up in one of the parks that was sponsoring the event. She really went out of her way to reach out to the teens. We sold over 600 tickets for the evening. It was a wonderful mix of cultures under one roof with not a single incident.

In the meantime, staff began organizing their own teen leaders, setting up their weekly meetings, park activities, tutoring and grades system. In December we organized food and clothing drives, raffles and small fundraisers. We met with the parents to discuss the program. The teen leaders were beginning to weed themselves out as January approached, and the first wave of grades came out. As we saw a drop-off of leaders because of grades, staff met to redirect some of our efforts.

While part of the program's goals was to work toward the Florida trip, we felt it was very important to provide a program for the teens who wouldn't make the Florida tract. So we worked on activities for all the teens, giving the tract leaders discounts on tickets and other opportunities. We also brought in the teens from all the different parks, to brainstorm on what activities they would like to see such as a multi-ethnic dance for just the teen club members, more music programs, computer games in their park teen centers and some fundraising ideas.

February brought us the IPRA Midnite Teen Ski Trip at Wilmot Mountain. The park district paid for transportation and their lift tickets. The teens were responsible for their ski rentals (approximately $10). We bussed more than 150 teens and chaperones to Wilmot for an exciting late evening of skiing, dancing and socializing into the wee hours of the morning before loading the busses back to Chicago. Nearly 100% of the teens had never been on skis or even seen a ski mountain. Many of the teens didn't have hats or gloves or ski jackets, but they didn't seem to care—they had a great time and will long remember the opportunity given them with smiles and appreciation.

More than 500 teens from seven inner city parks came to- gether in November to roller skate with CoCo Cortez, a disc jockey from Chicago radio station B96.

In April we sent 60 teens to the IPRA Teen Roller Skating Lock-In program at the rink in the city as a reward to the leaders who are working hard at the program. In addition to these trips, each of the parks run their own activities for their leaders such as local dances and dinner at Planet Hollywood, mural designs, trips to Chicago sports teams games (when we can get tickets), as well as music programs and speakers at their meetings.

As we make our way toward the third quarter marking period for grades, we have projected that approximately 60 teens will make it through the program. Now the fund raising crunch begins, as staff starts planning for the trip, seeking sponsors and deals on travel plans. We are projecting that each teen will need approximately $700 for the week. The park district will subsidize part of these costs, but the rest is up to the teens and staff to make it happen.

As the manager in charge of this program for our region, it has certainly been one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had in the field of parks and recreation. I have met so many good teens, from dropouts who hang in the club for the pure friendship of the program, to the "C" average teen who is struggling to get on the Florida tract, to the "A" teen who is always at the park answering phones, serving holiday lunches to the homeless, or playing t-ball with the younger park kids. Many, many of these teens will not be going to college, but we feel that the program not only provides recreation to them, but their self-esteem will be better, their outlook on life outside their community will be better, their interaction with teens not only from other parks in the city, but also with teens from the suburbs and downstate will teach them about life. I have been fortunate to see these teens choose parks over gangs, to choose parks over TV, to choose parks when their home life is less than ideal.

We, as leisure professionals, hope that what we do is enough to make life better for people. What greater job is there than providing these recreational opportunities to the hardest target group to program—teenagers. From this author's point of view, absolutely none.


Kathleen Gartland, Area Manager, has worked for the Chicago Park District since 1988. Prior to Chicago, she worked in several different suburban agencies for nine years. She holds a Bachelor degree from the University Of Illinois - Champaign in Leisure Studies and a Master's degree from Roosevelt University in public administration.*

Illinois Parks & Recreation • May/June 1995 ¦ 39

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