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City, county partner for youth recreation

Cuts in Navy activities for civilian kids played a part in prompting officials in Island County to consider creating a central directory to other program offerings available to youth and their families.

In an effort to create a centralized listing and help recreational activities flourish, Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik called a meeting earlier this month to discuss an island-wide youth recreation partnership among island cities, services, schools and nonprofits.

Representatives from Island County government, the city of Oak Harbor, North Whidbey Park and Recreation District, Oak Harbor School District and Big Brothers Big Sisters attended the roundtable discussion.

Slowik recognized the need after the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station youth center cut its services to non-military families for budget reasons.

“The problem is exacerbated because the base youth center is no longer open to civilian children,” he said.

Craig Carlson, North Whidbey Parks and Recreation District director, suggested a kind of “youth activities yellow pages” to spread the word about all the services available, suggesting a mailer or Web site to get the word out on program offerings.

“I’m all about this,” Island County Commissioner John Dean said.

Blogs and texting services are other ways to advertise the services, Dean said, adding the group should include the newly created Island County Children’s Commission that began in November 2007.

“We’re truly looking at a deficit in recreational activities right now,” Peggy Dyer, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters said, adding that Oak Harbor lacks a community center, or other place that offers regular recreational services.

“If you occupy young people, they will not occupy public safety,” Paul Schmidt, Oak Harbor city administrator, said. “There are studies that support that.”

In addition to recreation, Oak Harbor School District Superintendent Rick Schulte, suggested that kids need a space for after-school tutoring, homework helpers, access to technology and a “neutral zone,” where kids can be kids.

“When kids say there’s nothing to do, they mean there’s no place to socialize,” Schulte said, adding that teens need a space for “unstructured socializing.”

South Whidbey Parks and Recreation may be a good partner in the plan to create a central directory of youth services, County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said, adding that many islanders travel 30 minutes or more for services that are not available in their communities.

“I know a lot of people who travel north for the pool,” she said. “I think there’s a chance for collaboration.”

Commissioner Angie Homola agreed.

“We definitely have to include all of Whidbey Island,” she said, suggesting that the group should get the chamber of commerce on board.

There are greater funding possibilities when multiple agencies work together, Schulte said.

“As a coordinated group we may have more access to grant opportunities,” he said.

The group also talked of inviting South Whidbey Parks, Island Transit, Beach Watchers, State Parks, the Port Districts, Coupeville and South Whidbey School Districts, the Navy and various church groups to the table from more input.

The next step will come after the minutes are typed-up and distributed to the agencies that attended the meeting and those not at the table, Homola said. From there, the city and county will take inventory of their recreation services and the next meeting date will be set.

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