Keeping kids off the streets

Jennifer Hemmingsen
Published: June 14 2010 | 10:41 am - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 2:50 am in
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There’s plenty of scientific evidence that shows unstructured play time is a critical part of child development. But every parent I know can cite just as much evidence that too much of a good thing can lead kids into trouble.

Luckily, there are new options in southeastern Iowa City to keep kids a little busier during the lazy days ahead.

There were a lot of fights and vandalism south of Highway 6 last summer — kids making pretty stupid choices, feeding into the area’s negative reputation. Partly, they had nothing to do.

This year, they’ll have the Wetherby Park splash pad, which opened late last month.

Before the splash pad, the city’s first, kids in southeastern Iowa City had to cross the highway to get to a city pool.

So a few dedicated folks in Wetherby and Grant Wood neighborhoods held garage sales and carwashes, and wrote one grant proposal after another to raise funds for the free, fun watering hole — which is sure to be put to good use in the steamy months ahead.

Way over on the other end of the spectrum, the Broadway Neighborhood Center has recruited more than 100 volunteer tutors to help neighborhood kids boost their skills before school starts up again in the fall.

It might not sound like summer fun to you, but Sue Freeman, program director for the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, said it’s got kids at the center very excited.

During a pilot project this spring, Freeman said she had all kinds of requests from kids who wanted to participate. This summer, every child enrolled in the center’s programs will have a chance to be matched with a tutor.

It’s not just about skill building, she said. It’s about building relationships — volunteers play games, act as positive role models.

Local businessman Jeff Currie and activist and substitute teacher Gary Sanders helped launch the tutoring program.

“It’s one thing to complain about the problem,” Currie said. “It’s a totally different thing to get in there and work on solutions.”

They’re still looking for tutors. E-mail Sanders at or call: (319) 337-7739.

For every carrot there’s a stick, of course. Enter Donna Besgrove’s new neighborhood watch group. The Miami Drive resident told a reporter she hopes the group will help rebuild a sense of community near her longtime home.

Three unrelated initiatives, maybe, but with a common goal: Making sure southeastern Iowa City kids have more than streets to roam; that they have neighborhoods.

Comments: (319) 339-3154;

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