Kids will have the chance to get active, get a free meal, and snag a free book this summer as coach Allen Benson drives a van to three city parks Monday through Friday.
The van, sponsored by the Ardmore Public Library, the Ardmore department of Parks and Recreation, and the Chickasaw Nation, will be driving to three major parks throughout the summer delivering a free meal, and book to any child under 18 that shows up. The program is part of the HFV Wilson community center’s effort to reach children beyond those who come to their summer program.
“We have a lot of children in our center that we reach, around 250, but there are a lot of kids that can’t get to our programs, feel too old for them, or just don’t know about them,” HFV Director Alicia Henry said. “To be able to bring books, recreational activities, and food to them is amazing. We are going to reach kids we haven’t been able to reach before.”
The van program aims to get kids healthy and active, while encouraging learning throughout the summer. Benson will be driving the colorful van and appear at the parks for one hour a day. Once there, he will do summer camp like activities with the children.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to spend more time with the kids this summer,” Benson said. “Also, being able to get kids active over the summer, as a coach we see a lull in physical activity and learning over the summer.”
Benson added that he hopes the program is such a success, that the city has to add another van.
The van is part of a statewide effort to get people more active.
According to the Center for Disease Control 33 percent of Oklahoma adults are obese, and eleven percent of adolescents. Those numbers don’t include the number of children who are ages 2 -4 years old. As high as 15 percent of children 2 to 4 years old in the WIC program were obese, as of last year, according to the CDC. In 2011, the CDC ranked Oklahoma sixth in the nation for having the highest obesity rates.
Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Travis Buell said Benson was chosen for the job not just because he’s a coach, but because of his unique ability to get kids interested in being active.
“Benson was chosen because he is very engrained in our community,” Buell said. “His energy and enthusiasm will keep the kids involved.”
The program will run Monday through Friday, June 5 through Aug. 4. Benson and the van will be at Fraley Park, 611 Martin Luther King Drive from 11:45 am – 12:30 p.m., in Whittington Park, 402 G St. SE, from 12:45 – 1:30 p.m., and at Broadlawn Park, 1511 Mount Washington St. from 1:45 – 2:30 p.m. A separate van brought by the Chickasaw Nation will carry the free lunches for kids, while Benson’s van will be packed full of books, activities, and free wifi.
“This program is to reach those kids that stay at home by themselves, or with parents, or grandparents,” said Teresa Ervin, parks and recreation director. “This is an outreach program that will reach a lot of children.”