Mobile Camps Deliver Summer Fun for Low-Income Communities

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As summer stretches on and the euphoria of “no more teachers” fades, parents everywhere face a similar dilemma: How do you keep your kids busy and out of trouble?

The answer for families with disposable income is often summer camps, which are becoming more expensive every year. But that is not an option for low-income parents, some of whom might not even be able to afford the fees of community recreation programs and can’t get to a safe park.

But a few cities and organizations in Orange County are using innovative ways to give kids in poorer neighborhoods some of the benefits of an active, more supervised summer.

The Fun on the Run Mobile Recreation program in San Clemente is one such example. Young adults who work for the city drive a truck full of sports equipment, games and crafts to neighborhood parks. Like camp counselors, they organize soccer games and art projects for the kids.

“The truck goes out to different sites. It’s a free program with bilingual staff. They play soccer and kickball with the kids and get them moving,” said Samantha Thomas, interim recreation coordinator at San Clemente’s Parks and Recreation Department.

But there is no easily accessible park in one San Clemente neighborhood, Vista Los Mares, so once a week employees with the city’s parks and recreation department cordon off a cul-de-sac to create an impromptu play area.

“I love coming out here,” said Fernando Villalobos, 18, a recreation leader with the city who worked up a sweat during an intense game of street soccer recently.

Irvine also runs a mobile recreational program aimed at low-income kids in apartment complexes in two city locations. The more popular is at Orchard Park on Wednesday and Friday afternoons during the summer. In addition to sports and crafts, the Irvine program incorporates scooters, water balloons and board games.

For a time, a Santa Ana community organization, Latino Health Access, offered a mobile recreation program that was included in the recently aired HBO documentary about America’s battle with obesity, “The Weight of the Nation.”

Unfortunately, the bus was idled by mechanical problems, said Nancy Mejia, program coordinator for Latino Health Access. The organization is still trying to offer free, community-based recreation programs by organizing youth activities.

It’s especially challenging, however, because the playground behind Roosevelt Elementary School, located in one of the city’s most congested and open space-deprived neighborhoods, was recently closed for the summer due to school renovations.

Without the Roosevelt play area, volunteers are trying to organize pickup soccer games at Madison and Jerome parks.

Traditional organized sports are not always feasible for residents, said Mejia. “We want to take sports out to the neighborhood.”

— AMY DePAUL

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