BLOOMING GROVE REC CHAIR ON THE HOT SEAT
AS DEPARTMENT PLANS REBOOT
By Edie Johnson
With Summer Camp in full swing, Blooming Grove’s new board is taking a close look at its offerings, and making a major effort to improve the camp’s programs, as well streamlining procedures, making sure that age groups remain separate, and making sure its offerings are well advertised on a new Rec Department Facebook Page. The new page will have several “Admins” who will screen posts to ensure the advertising is appealing, updated regularly, and the public has an opportunity to weigh in with suggestions for program additions or complaints. Councilman Tom DeVinko recommended an online survey and Councilwoman Sonia Ayala suggested an exit questionnaire to find out what other programs were wanted, and where there might be problems. Councilman Charles Quick said he thought some of the programs could be turned into a more fiscally net positive result if developed the right way.
Blooming Grove’s Rec Program, Camp Activities and Latchkey Program, run by Director Gary MacEntee, (where children of working parents have afterschool activities) are among some of the most popular and financially reasonable in the area. It was pointed out that if there are weather or other delay issues, the program’s hours are often extended out of courtesy. At a cost of only $150/month it is a major benefit to Blooming Grove residents. Board members weighed on how important they think it is that residents, many which work long hours and often in New York City, have a place they know the children are supervised responsibly and have fun activities. Swim activities at Hill-Mar are of course a favorite. Supervisor Rob Jeroloman asked for additional assurances that there is a limit on how many children are in the pool at once and determination of the exact pool capacity. MacEntee said that there are always 2 lifeguards at the facility, and in addition there are 2 more Rec Department lifeguards. Jeroloman also pressed for other safety measures, to make sure groups stay age-appropriate, and for better field shelter, especially when rainy spells might bring a large number of the kids inside. Some at Lasser apparently go under the concession stand roofs when rain is heavy, though MacEntee said it doesn’t usually last long. Martial Arts is a favorite, and there will be efforts to expand it throughout next year. A few of the other favorite programs at May’s Field where the younger children attend are a Sprinkler, Slip & Slide, Baseball and Paddle ball. Board games and arts and crafts are also popular.
Counselors are trained not only in first aid but also in recognizing abuse and handling situations. Due to problems of overuse last year, a new policy prohibits use of cell phones, by both campers and staff during camp hours.
MacEntee said that he has 19 total counselors, of which 12 have First Aid training. They have retraining every year. At Summer Camp each counselor has about 10 children. The activities are held at Lasser Park and May’s Field and sometimes in the Rec Department space at Fulton Square. Wednesdays are reserved for offsite field trips.
For the future he had several suggestions to upgrade programs, including events with NY PAC dance group and to have a Community Day that in the future would include the Town as well as both villages.
The recreation department programs suffered by big cuts over the previous 5 years, and lost thousands in income. Now the new board members want to bring back some of the most popular programs that were lost. Zumba had been very popular among ladies in town and they will be looking for a new location to reinstate it.
Past Challenges and Serious Problems.
MacEntee was taken to task for some serious problems in previous years that plagued the program. Some of the problems, they say, still exist. Some parents pulled their kids out of programs because of bullying situations that they felt were not properly handled. One mother said that after her 5-year old was punched by a bully she had tried unsuccessfully several times to come in and discuss it. She pulled her child out and was unable to get a refund. Jeroloman offered his card and asked her to contact him to discuss it further.
Others say there is too much time when kids are left unsupervised, and choosing their own activities, rather than getting more direction.
Older teens need programs too, one parent said. If they have nothing to do they ride their bikes and hang around at the parks and hassle the younger children. Video cams are being ordered for the park and MacEntee said that all it took was a call to the police chief and after a brief talk to the teens frequently doing the taunting much of the hassling disappeared. It was pointed out that it would be difficult to keep others out of a public park, but there is a possibility that there could be “exclusive” times during camp season. Parents said that when there are a hundred children in camp there will be the occasional incident, but they recommended that former bullying issues could be addressed by keeping the younger children more separated and developing a policy which could include expulsion from camp for any violent act. They also recommended that in addition to some high school teen counselors there should always be at least one adult present since teens need some oversight as well. The need for a written medical manual and presence of a Medical Director were other requests, one stating that her son’s scraped knee had been badly handled since his female counselor could not go in the men’s room with him to clean it up.
A main problem at present is the storage shed at Lasser. Phone access by parents for pick-up and emergencies has to be immediate, possibly with a louder ringer and blinking light so there is never a repeat of one mom who became very concerned after having significant trouble finding her child. The size of the room is also a big issue since the only really rain free site during summer camp is the 6 Depot Office.
Board members weighed in on how to get to a better set of programs. Providers such as the Success Martial Arts program that is doing so well along with camp program providers are going to be invited to future workshops to give presentations in a public setting. Residents attending these meetings have a chance to speak their minds at the sessions as well.