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Save it for Some Rainy Play

 On a hot and muggy day in early August, the Windy City could only manage a slight breeze as Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC) Director of Special Initiatives, Norma Sanders and I (GAGDC Assistant Communications Coordinator Ian Grant-Funck) strolled into Westcott Elementary School on 80th street in Auburn Gresham.

We met up with the Principal Monique Dockery in the Parent Room. The Parent Room is a key asset to the GAGDC’s AG Gold two generation education initiative that promotes local CPS schools. For parents, this room serves as a computer lab, a place to learn about and apply to job opportunities and much more.

We were discussing a different two-generation engagement program—the upcoming Playstreets event. The AG Gold Summer camp was coming to a close, and alongside camp director Derris Cameron, Ms. Sanders figured that as a part of kids (and their parent's) celebration on the last day of the camp, the GAGDC should host a Playstreet event.

On the Southside, Playstreets relies on a partnership between World Sport Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public health to facilitate community-based-organization-sponsored events that close down streets and offer organized play for local children and adults, so they can be more active and connected. The chance to get children and parents from the AG Gold camp and parents and children from the block together was too sweet to pass up.

At the end of their meeting, Ms. Sanders, Ms. Dockery and I strolled out onto the block. Ms. Dockery began to point out which houses were likely to have people in them in the afternoons so we could get residents to sign off on the street closure form. Door knocking followed, and after a series of pleasant encounters with excited neighbors and a few houses where we could only leave a door hanger because nobody was home, we came to a particularly vivacious house. There we met Doylle Wynn, an engaged citizen who we later realized is Ms. Dockery’s relative. Mr. Wynn welcomed us to the block, expressed his excitement at the opportunity for the event and offered to help GAGDC procure a bouncy house so that the kids could have even more fun. 

 The day of the event rolled around, and the radar did not look good. Then it did. Then it did not. Chance of rain fluctuated from 70% the night before to 25% the morning of, to 45% just a few hours before the event was supposed to happen. Norma decided we would go ahead with the event to prevent disappointing the neighborhood, but we knew we were rolling the dice.

            Mr. Wynn met us there with his bouncy-house-owning friend and even as the bouncy house was starting to blow up, 45 minutes before the event was scheduled to start, kids from the block started streaming out. They spun hula hoops, bumped a volley ball back and forth and waited in eager anticipation for the bouncy house to be ready. A young man named Maurice and I threw a football back and forth for more than an hour, chatting about our lives, our interests and Chicago sports. 

Just an hour into the official event, as the kids from the camp began streaming out to play, the skies opened up. The house had to be deflated and the kids ran home. Under a GAGDC tent, Norma and I munched on popcorn and waited. Kids from the camp ran to their cars with their parents or walked off home, disappointed. As we watched our participants skulk away, Norma turned to me and said, “I knew this would happen. I should have followed my instincts. I knew the rain was coming.”  

Then, all of a sudden, in a moment of movie-like magic, a tiny rainbow appeared and the sky started to clear. The dark clouds had moved on, in favor of lighter (though still somewhat menacing) ones and a little sun. The telltale sounds of the motor from the bouncy house’s fan called the kids from all around like a real-life-Pied-Piper. As the bouncy house inflated, Mr. Wynn brought out towels from his house to dry off the plastic. The football started flying again, and stragglers from the camp began to talk with the kids from the block. A few counselors came out, and the first kids entered the rejuvenated (though slightly damp) bouncy house.

Although the rain began in earnest again fifteen minutes later, Norma no longer regrets going through with the Playstreets event at Westcott: “it turned out fine. The kids had fun and connected to their neighbors. We all wish they could have had more time, but I’m glad for the event all the same,” she said.

In a city with weather as variable as Chicago’s, we can be thankful for all the fun that we had on that afternoon next to Westcott Elementary. Every minute of organized play counted; every caught ball, every bounce on the bouncy house, and every smile brought to a kid's face made the city we share just a little bit more active and a little bit more connected. 

Special thanks to Mr. Wynn, Principal Dockery and everyone who came out to our Playstreets event.

Catch the last four Auburn Gresham PlayStreets events are still partnering with our Auburn Gresham GOLD school network:

  • On On 80th Carpenter,  neighbors join Perspectives Middle School, in the first-week-of-school play break, August 29th, 11am-2pm.

  • On 76th Wolcott, neighbors will join Clara Barton Elementary School, in an end of the summer play event, right in the street! That's right, just play for all students, parents, families to get to know our neighbors! August 31st, 12pm - 3pm.

  • The final two Playstreets events will be held each afternoon, September 9th and 10th respectively, during the 79th St. Renaissance Festival between 79th Ada and Loomis, in the sports and fitness pavilion.

The last group of committed youth who weathered the storm during PlayStreets at Westcott Elementary School

Photo: Norma Sanders



Keywords: Auburn Gresham Gold, Health Chicago 2.0, PlayStreets, Westcott, World Sports Chicago

Posted in City of Chicago, Community Highlights, Education Initiatives