MILLVILLE - Outdoor fun found its footing in Center City with the start Wednesday of season two of the Play Streets program.
East Pine Street between North 2nd and 3rd streets was blocked to traffic for four mid-day hours. That cleared a safe path for more than 100 kids to rotate among games and activities set up in the street and on the adjacent grounds of First United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church.
“We have a lot more kids out there,” said Heather Santoro, executive director of the Holly City Development Corp. “I think our first week has been pretty successful. There seem to be a lot more kids who have participated earlier, which is great.”
Play Streets took over the street from 10 a.m. through 2 p.m. A strong sun fed a demand for water bottles and shade.
The major partners behind Play Streets, which repeats at the same site for the next six Wednesdays, are Holly City Development and the Millville Neighborhood Alliance.
Other groups participating are Millville police, Holly City Family Center, Millville Public Library, the city school system, First United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church and the Millville Elks.
Officer Rick Kott said the department got to pick the theme for the first week and settled on “physical fitness and exercise.”
“We have Make & Move Club over here and they are doing a whole obstacle course/strength conditioning,” Kott said.
Make & Move Club, a small nonprofit out of Vineland, split the use of Pine Street with Holly City Family Center. Make & Move marked out an area for a Tic-Tac-Toe and brought weighted sleds for its area.
Josh Barreiro, executive director of the nonprofit, said the Tic-Tac-Toe game is more about agility.
“The kid has to run up, and put a marker down, and run back,” Barreiro said. “So, they’re working on their speed and agility, and also their ability to think on the second.”
Barreiro said the sleds — one that has to be pushed and one that has to be pulled — are there especially to interest kids who don’t do organized team sports.
“It looks daunting but, once they learn they can do it, it’s a very empowering thing,” he said. “They compete against themselves. So we find they’re much more willing to be active and engage in this stuff, especially the kids who get disenfranchised from the big sports leagues.”
Brooke Herchelroth, an instructor at Holly City Family Center, took a class of kids through an exercise routine a little distance from Make & Move.
“We’re going to do yoga later on, if they’re into it,” Herchelroth said. “I’m going to try. It’s hot in the sun.”
Volunteers weren’t all adults, like friends Isaiah Guzman and Miguel Centeno, both 14. They attend a summer camp at First United Methodist.
“I wanted to help people out and contribute with the church,” said Guzman, whose siblings were out for the day.
“And I thought it’d be cool,” Centeno said. “We’re usually the helpers.”
Other volunteers came from the LINK program, run by Inspira Health Network, state grant funded, and a mission to work with Millville students.
Mary Ann Ledden, who directs the program, said 10 LINK students were working the event. This was their first time here, she said.
“We want to give back to the community,” Ledden said. “We’ve been here since quarter of 9. And they’ve been placing things out and working with the kids. Some of them have already gone through our program.”
Brianna Sutton, 17, is in her third year with LINK. She is a member of the color guard for the Millville High School Marching Band.
“It’s a program where we can provide somebody with a place to go and a place where we can have new friends and opportunities,” Sutton said. “People who stop by the tent ask us what LINK stands for and what we’re doing.”
Steve Matusz, a vice principal at Millville Senior High School, was present on behalf of the district and as a liaison for the Millville Elks.
“For me, as an administrator, it’s important for us to go to the community,” Matusz said. “You can’t always say, ‘You come to us. Here’s our back to school night. You know where we are.’ So, I’ve been working with Heather to try to do more community outreach and come into the community. This is a program we’re very interested in due to the summer aspect of it — seeing our students and making sure they’re safe and having some organized activities to do in the summertime.”
Matusz contacted the Elks to help sponsor last year’s inaugural Play Streets. Then, and this year, the club donated $500 toward buying bookbags and school supplies.
“It’s a great alliance,” he said. “Everyone was fighting the good fight in isolation. … Heather has access to the funds and programs, but she doesn’t have volunteers. I have access to student volunteers. Millville Elks has assets they can provide. So everyone’s got little pieces of the puzzle.”
Joseph P. Smith; (856) 563-5252; email@example.com