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SAFE Parks program kicks off­

Cammille Henderson, 8, of Nevis, makes a caterpillar during craft time at the SAFE Parks area in Heartland Park. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

The SAFE Parks program kicked off last week at Heartland Park in Park Rapids.

The SAFE Parks - Safe and Fun Environment - program offers a variety of activities for children of all ages.

Earlier this year, the program was facing a budget shortfall after some large donors were unable to provide funding. Since then, several new donors have stepped forward.

Headwaters Intervention Center hosts the program, which is in its 14th season. Volunteers are on hand every day to provide a safe, chaperoned environment outdoors.

The proposed SAFE Parks schedule is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at Heartland Park in Park Rapids and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at Akeley's Beach Park. It will end Aug. 17 depending on funding.

Erin Wolter is in charge of the activities at Heartland Park with Hope Domeier as her assistant.

Nicole Opsal, Child Abuse Advocate for Headwaters Intervention Center, oversees the program.

"It's really geared toward those latchkey kids," Opsal said. "We want to provide a safe place for these kids who don't have supervision."

Organizers are looking to add an option to provide a healthy free lunch option. In addition, there will be weekly scavenger hunts, guest speakers, arts and crafts, volleyball and other sports activities.

SAFE Parks relies entirely on donations. Although more funding has come in, more donations can always be utilized to buy new arts and craft supplies or sports equipment.

If funding improves, there is a possibility of re-opening the Laporte site as well, Opsal said.

The SAFE Parks program improves the lives of children in the community who may not have the opportunity to participate in the activities, provides a place for children to play safely and offers educational opportunities in an interactive setting, a newsletter about the program states.

Kids are utilizing the SAFE Parks program. In 2011, the program served about 1,565 children.

Unsupervised youth are more likely to commit crimes, be victims of crimes or experiment with alcohol or drugs. Because of this, Opsal and other staff at Headwaters Intervention Center think the program is needed more than ever in the community.

SAFE Parks is a free program for all kids from ages 8 to 16 years old. Children ages 7 and under must be accompanied by adults.

Opsal also hopes to do some outreach to some of the older kids this summer as she starts an initiative called the Youth Empowerment Project.

For more information about the SAFE Parks program or Youth Empowerment Project, or to donate, call the Headwaters Intervention Center at 732-7413.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561