Mayor, advocate disagree on restoring children's activity program

April 14, 1994|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Sun Staff Writer

Resident Paula Eckenrode figured she had one solution to New Windsor's problem with "restless youth" when she showed cartoons and films to town kids who camped out on her wrap-around porch on Main Street once a week last summer.

Her ideas for children's activities helped Mayor Jack A. Gullo create the Town Youth Partnership Experiment, which provided activities such as movies, parties and game nights for youngsters from October until December.

But now, as the TYPE program is retooled and many residents complain about recent petty crimes and vandalism by young people, Mrs. Eckenrode said she finds herself acting as the children's advocate once more.

"The kids have nothing to do around here. They have a little playground and a tot lot, but that's it," said Mrs. Eckenrode, 41, mother of two. "You're talking about older kids that are causing the trouble, but they are somehow blaming them all.

"Why because you have a few bad apples . . . do you take it away from everyone?"

The TYPE program was created by the mayor in October to encourage community pride, spirit and cohesiveness, as well as to provide activities for children 9 to 16 who otherwise would have nothing to do in town.

The experiment ended in December after eight weeks of movie viewing, parties and game nights at the Brethren Service Center -- which had donated its facilities to the town -- so the government could see if the program goals were being met.

But that was four months age, and Mrs. Eckenrode wants a new commitment from the town. She said it should continue to provide places for the activities, but should sponsor other kinds of events and pay some of the expenses.

"Nothing came from the town. I hear they [the government] gave $10,000 to the rec council for benches, but I got things for the activities myself," Mrs. Eckenrode said.

Mr. Gullo said he is searching for more volunteers for the program as well as someone to oversee the program when it is set back in motion.

He said Mrs. Eckenrode, who coordinated activities during the experiment, provided the energy and desire to make the program successful, but "she had little understanding of the governmental implications involved" in the project.

"Paula is an excellent doer, or performer, but you need someone there to manage the doers and report to the supervisor -- which is me," Mr. Gullo said.

"Paula wants what's in the best interest of the kids. I want what's in the best interest of the town, which includes the kids. We need someone to mold the two into one . . . someone who knows what balance needs to be struck," he said.

Mrs. Eckenrode said she suggested to the mayor that other activities, such as camping trips or picnics at Hashawha, be sponsored by the town. "But that would cost about $300 to $400," she said. "I can't get them to buy us a bag of popcorn, let alone give $300."

But he said he feels the town has gotten involved in the program as much as it should, especially since the program was created to promote community spirit and be run by volunteers.

"We are not in the business of providing entertainment," he said.

"As a government, we are not obligated to make sure everyone is involved in an activity. We just have to make sure that activities are provided for everyone, and we do," he said, talking about the baseball leagues and other programs run by the town recreation council.

"But with the TYPE program, we are trying to see that everyone is taken care of, but it was meant to be a volunteer effort, to get involved and take responsibility for the activities of their children."

Mrs. Eckenrode said many people don't take responsibility for their children's behavior, which is why the town should play an active role.

But her suggestion that the town force responsibility for restless, trouble-making teens on their parents was met by low but audible laughter at last week's council meeting.

"That suggestion was ludicrous because as a government, our hands are tied when it comes to the parents," Mr. Gullo said. "That's just another reason why I said the town cannot be baby sitters, why the program has to be a volunteer effort."

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