Woonsocket's new Director of Parks and Recreation Elizabeth Kerrigan doesn't have a budget for programs, but she's still managed to organize a series of activities at city parks this summer.
Kerrigan said the recreation department used to sponsor many summer programs, but recent budget cuts to the city's departments have left her office with only funding for maintenance of parks and playing fields. So she got creative.
Kerrigan's plan: Work with local officials, business owners and volunteers to offer the city summer fun. She managed the trick, offering the "Just Play" program (see attached .pdf), essentially supervised play in the parks with parents and kids, that started July 9 and runs 9 a.m. till noon at a different park each week day through Aug. 20.
Kerrigan said the idea seems simple, but it's fulfilling a real need for city kids. "Some kids have never hit a ball. Some kids have never jump-roped," she said. There's a first time for everything, and "Just Play" is providing that for a lot of local youths this summer, Kerrigan said.
It's not only the kids who are enjoying themselves, Kerrigan said — so are the parents. "They're really excited that they can do something with their kids," she said.
Kerrigan said she was able to get some staffing help for the program in the form of local teens from , which won a grant this summer allowing them to offer 90 teenagers their first summer job. "I picked up six," Kerrigan said, allowing her to staff "Just Play."
Lisa Godfrin, secretary of Northern Bernon Little League, said she and other Little League parents are thrilled with Kerrigan's efforts. "Bernon Little League’s board has been so impressed with Elizabeth Kerrigan’s work in keeping up the maintenance and overall appearance of the baseball fields in the city with such a limited budget. When she asked us to help her get the word out on the “Just Play” program, we were more than happy to assist. Her goal is in line with Bernon’s, which is to keep the youth of our city active and involved. With this being the first year in a long time since we have seen such a program in our parks, we gladly passed out flyers and emailed our members about the activities, as well as donated some baseball equipment that could be utilized in her program. The children that will utilize this program ultimately will be the youth that will participate in sports in our city organizations, including Bernon," Godfrin said.
For "Fitness in the Parks!", Kerrigan asked local businesses Ocean State School of Performing Arts, , , and if they'd be willing to volunteer their instructors for a few sessions during the summer at some of the city's parks. They said yes. "The companies that I contacted were so willing and so eager to donate their instuctors' time," Kerrigan said.
There are still three sessions left for "Fitness in the Parks!":
- Friday, Aug. 3: Yoga, 6 p.m. at River Island Park with The Gym (rain date Aug. 10th)
- Monday, Aug. 6: Kickboxing, 5 p.m. at River Island Park with Rondeau’s Kickboxing.
- Saturday, Aug. 25: Boot Camp!, 7 a.m. at River’s Edge with The Gym (rain or shine).
"It was great for them to get their word out and it only costs them what they pay for an instructor," Kerrigan said.
With donations from local businesses, the Parks and Recreation department are also offering a summer music series at starting Aug. 4 with TRIO's jazz, blues and funk from 6 to 9 p.m. There are also concerts scheduled for Aug. 11, Aug. 19 and Aug. 26 (see attached .pdf).
The series is funded through donations from The Bocce Club Restaurant, Soucy Insurance Agency, PolyWorks, WNRI, Burrito Co., Pillsbury House Bed & Breakfast, Oakland Grove Care Center & Woonsocket Senior Center and Sound system & DJ Services by J.A.G.S. Entertainment.
While Kerrigan was working for the city as a clerk, she said she learned the former recreation director was retiring. She started thinking about the job, and how she could bring recreation programs back to to the city.
"I've been an event planner, truly, about my entire life," Kerrigan said, before she started working as a city clerk. She knows how to set up and organize vending and corporate events. Also, "I kind of have a sense of what people my age want to do with their kids," said Kerrigan, a mom herself.
She said she wanted to apply for the Parks and Recreation director job, but didn't think she'd get it because she didn't have a CDL license to operate maintenance equipment. She mentioned in passing to a co-worker that it was too bad, since otherwise she thought the job was perfect for her. The friend told her that wasn't a requirement for the director's job, so she applied and got the position.
"I'm glad I said something," Kerrigan said.
She's not the only one who's glad. "During these hard fiscal times in our city, we are excited to see the opportunities open to the families because of Elizabeth Kerrigan's hard work in securing donations," Godfrin said.