Tuesday morning, a solitary kid, maybe 8 or 9 years old, hood up and head down in the rain, trudged past the old McKinley Elementary School on the East Side.
Now, not every lone kid walking is at loose ends. Not every gaggle of preteens has no one at home keeping track of them. But in this rainy week, there’s a drought of safe, affordable and supervised resources for kids.
School’s out. The Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound are closed, as is Metro Parks’ Portland Avenue Community Center, which is getting needed maintenance.
It’s an interesting week for families with children too young to be on their own.
For those families doing well on one salary, I’m guessing this is a lovely time of winding down, snuggling with a new book or a Harry Potter Blu-ray, with breaks for zoo visits, maybe skating.
For families making it with some wiggle room on two paychecks, it’s the season of juggling vacation time, helpful relatives and the costs of day care, camps and baby sitters.
But for those families supported by a single parent, or both parents working low-wage jobs, safe and supervised child care is a financial struggle.
So let’s hope games and books and television add up to good baby sitters.
And let’s get back to plans to do better for kids, especially those on Tacoma’s East Side, next summer.
In June, Tacoma City Councilman Marty Campbell convened meetings with East Side residents, officials and parks and social services workers who’d just realized the combined effect of the closures of Swan Creek Library, Boys & Girls Clubs’ East Side clubhouse and Northwest Leadership Foundation’s summer day camp at Salishan.
Though Metro Parks’ Laura Rodriguez was developing camps and art projects at Portland Avenue Community Center, word of them was not getting out to residents, and many families saw affordability as a barrier.
About the only big thing going for kids were the free lunches and snacks at parks. Metro Parks employees supervised kids there as much as they could, and community policing offers put extra work into preventing youth problems.
All of that was stopgap. The informal East Side committee’s real goal was to get anyone with resources together to build a better system for future times off from school.
Jan. 2 isn’t too soon to reconvene. There will be even less to go around this year, with looming police and firefighter cuts and a perilous city budget.
Can some genius create a communications system that reaches leaders at churches, nonprofits, Tacoma Housing Authority, the right people at schools, libraries, and the Hispanic, Pacific Islander, Russian communities? Can they figure out how to get the word out to families who might not have a computer but could have a teen plugged in via a smartphone?
Can they build a list of who’s doing what and when? Can they develop that into a walking-distance calendar of supervised options for each neighborhood’s kids?
Are there outfits who’d rotate their programs through central spots, like McKinley Playfield, Salishan, Portland Avenue Community Center?
Are there garden and restoration programs possible at First Creek, McKinley Park or one of the three new community gardens?
Can Lister Elementary and First Creek Middle schools be plausible places for computer camps and sports programs for which price won’t be a barrier?
Does every old building have to be remodeled before it’s repurposed? If not, can McKinley Elementary and Gault Middle schools be recommissioned as rec centers for youth and seniors, possibly on loan or cheap lease to Metro Parks or the Puyallup Tribe?
Can vibrant groups, such as Tacoma 360 and Northwest Leadership Foundation, craft even more collaborations and find new donors and volunteers for their work? Would interns from community and four-year colleges be part of that?
Councilman Campbell’s ready to meet. Call him at 253-591-5100 if you’re in.
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677