Parks Department reinstates summer programs for underserved children

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Third Ward’s Emancipation Park Fitness Center is filled with the sounds of kids playing during the Houston Parks and Recreation Department’s Summer Enrichment Program.

The 10-week day camp – suspended for over a year and a half due to COVID-19 – resumed this summer at 19 community centers around Houston.

A lot of returning faces and new ones were eager to be a part of it all on Tuesday.

After the COVID shutdown last summer, the City of Houston’s summer parks and recreation enrichment program is back on track at sites across the city, including Emancipation Park. Video: Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle

“It’s just fun,” said 12-year-old Mari’e Wooley. “We do a lot of activities, a lot of games. You never get bored here. They tell us not to sit down, because we have to play, and it’s much better than being at home doing nothing.

Games include running, skipping, and hula hooping.

Open to children aged 6 to 13, the enrichment program has been in existence for over 30 years.

The continued restrictions on coronaviruses mean fewer children can participate, officials said. As the supervisor-to-child ratio fell from 1 in 25 to 1 in 8, organizers said they were returning to normal levels.

Mari’e, 12, has been in the program before and said she met her best friend there. She says they talk every day. She said there are people she met in the program that she has known for years now.

The enrichment program supervisors take pride in their work and get to know the children.

Nikia Lewis, the community center’s operations division chief, said positive male role models are needed. Lewis is a certified archery instructor and said he goes out of his way to get kids interested in non-stereotypical activities and sports in hopes of carving their way into their future.

“The most rewarding part of the program for me is just the smiles on the faces of the kids,” Lewis said. “If I can make a single child smile, I know I’ve done my job.”

Lewis has worked with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department for over 20 years and describes the experience as “unforgettable”. Giving children a place to feel taken care of is important, he said.

Field trips – such as a Tuesday outing to an Astros game at Minute Maid Park – which were suspended last year, are resuming with reduced capacity. In a social distancing effort, only six children are allowed per vehicle when commuting, up from 10 in previous years, Lewis said.

The program runs until August 20 and costs $ 30 per week, with fee waivers available for eligible families.

For more information, visit housontx.gov/parcs and search for Sports and recreation for young people.

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