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Illinois Parks & Recreation
November / December 1995 • Volume 26, Number 6

Project Success a Success in Decatur
by Karen E. Benjamin, CLP, and William L. Clevenger, CLP

In Decatur, the public participates in park district activities using district and school facilities on a daily basis. This is in great contrast to many other communities where community centers house many of the programs, with shared facilities to be used by both parks and schools at a minimum. This concept was initiated during the 1940s when Decatur was dubbed "Playtown USA" by the Athletic Institute.

As a park district, our mission involves offering quality programs and facilities to the public at nominal fees, with no emphasis on the economic background of participants. However, when economics prevent families from enjoying what belongs to everyone, it is often necessary to offer other options in order to ensure participation. This usually involves interfacing with a variety of other service providers, particularly for younger school-aged children.

What if confidentiality laws prohibit the sharing of Information regarding a family's economic status, health needs, etcetera?

What if in a year's time, officials from public aid, the health department, the child service agencies and others each attempt to work with a family only to run into each other at the doorstep of the home last inhabited by the family?

What if the family has moved eight times in one year, and each agency has a diffent address for family members?

In response to these ever-emerging issues, the community began to look for a "better way." Thus, Project Success grew out of a series of community agency meetings designed to explore the community education model. Through active participation in these discussions, the district emerged as the primary provider of the program's recreation component.

Decatur's Project Success was implemented through Partners in Education to erase barriers which inhibited providing services to numerous families who might fit some form of the above-mentioned profile. With shared information available to a variety of community agencies—as well as school principals and parent liaisons—children of school age can be quickly offered a variety of essential services. For example, as a result of Project Success at her school, one fifth-grade girl received dental treatment and necessary shots prior to school starting; she walked into school the first day with school supplies; and, she had the opportunity to participate on the school's pompon club. Prior to this agency interaction, she would have been barred from beginning school due to unmet health needs and would not have had other items she needed for extracurricular participation.

Currently involved in four schools, Decatur Park District has bene involved in a variety of ways since inception of the program. Combining dollars available through the Decatur Housing Authority (dollars which come from

8 Illinois Parks & Recreation November/December 1995

HUB), the district initiated numerous recreation opportunities through all the schools served by Project Success. The Department of Alcohol and Substance Abuse provided funding for several additional interesting opportunities for children and then families—day camps, cultural outings, bus trips, and more. In addition, plans are underway for these children to become involved in "Kid Fit," a new youth health and fitness program offered by the district.

At several park sites near schools, the district administers summer playground programs. Children who regularly attend neighborhood schools located adjacent to parks participate in reading hours organized by Project Success. In order to maintain high attendance, the story times are setup immediately following the Illinois State Board of Education lunch program, which is administered in the majority of neighborhood parks. After lunch, the park leader takes the children to the school library for the program.

In order to entice the children to participate even more, the sites are also part of the DARE to LEAD in the Parks program. These sites teach young adults job skills and participants are paid through the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), along with their supervising park leaders who—in addition to their regular duties—dole out incentives and keep track of books read by children. Special DARE presentations (including a concert) highlight this JTPA program brought about by the Macon County Private Industry Council.

Project Success worked at one particular site all year, making great strides with formation of a parent support group. As the school year came to an end, the parent group, school officials and Project Success staff were distressed that the interaction initiated during the school year might dissolve, making it necessary to start over again in the fall when the students returned to school. Project Success called the park district, agreed to sponsor the playground site, and by the first week of June, children and parents were at the site reading books, doing crafts, taking part in the lunch and snack program (provided through the state), riding buses to education special events and more.

In summation, this interagency approach to dealing with the whole child and family unit has tremendous potential. As service providers, the various agencies will be able to deliver program services in a more efficient and effective manner. Probably the most significant impact is related to both the service recipient and service provider being able to actually track and realize the long-term benefits of this community coordination and collaboration.

Karen E. Benjamin, CUP, is director of recreation and William L. Clevenger, CUP, is executive director of the Decatur Park District.

A mother and child A mother and child attend a Project Success Service Fair highlighting family programs from a variety of agencies. At right is Gus of Decatur Park District's "Gus and Goldie Safety Fish" fame.

About Project Success
Project Success strives to Increase parent involvement in all facets of children's education. Efforts are made to strengthen the family by providing opportunities for social interaction, parenting skills training and coordinated service delivery for families.

Six core components serve as the basis for all program activities, to ensure that every Project Success family has access to:
- preventive and primary health care
- services that promote family stability
- mental health services
- proper nutrition and nutrition education
- substance abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment
- positive family social activities

For more information, contact the Office of the Governor, 2 1/2 State House, Springfield, IL 62706,217/782-2654 (voice), 1-800-526-0844 (TDD), or Office of Lieutenant Governor, James R. Thompson Center, 15th Floor, Chicago, IL 60601,312/814-4866

Illinois Parks & Recreation • November/December 1995 • 9

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