Saturdays In the Park: Fun with a serious goal

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A coalition of non-profits is taking on a Gulfport neighborhood's problems with juvenile crime. They plan to do it by keeping children engaged in positive activities. Saturday, the group Ounce of Prevention and its partners kicked off a new program called Saturdays In the Park with music, games and food.

Five-year-old Angel McClendon says she is always ready to get into the game.

"I've been playing basketball and football and kickball," she said.

With a nice park right in the neighborhood, Ounce of Prevention couldn't understand why so many Gaston Point children complained of having nothing to do. Organizers say they realized the children needed someone to get the ball rolling.

"They just haven't figured it out. Somebody needs to show them. I guess our generation needs to show the generation behind them what fun is all about," said Greg Barabino with Ounce of Prevention. "The reason I thought of this because a lot kids said why wouldn't they do drugs or participate in bad behaviors. They have no alternative. It's hard to drive to any place that offers anything or it costs money."

He said, "Right here, there's over a 100 kids that live in this area. They're within walking distance so this is just a nice place."

Ounce of Prevention plans to invite a different non-profit agency to Saturdays in the Park each week. Organizers say it's important to get moms and dads out here too. "

Michelle Ford works for YMCA Families First. "It's a busy, busy fast paced world now. Parents are all working. Kids are at home, trying to go to school. There is very limited time. "

"The families that spend time together and share their values and actually come out and show their children that they are important in their lives are the ones that are successful and finish school," said Ford

Barabino said inviting the agencies can help families struggling financial know more about available resources.

"A lot of people are asking a lot of questions as I go through and do my day to day work," said Barabino. "They ask me can I help them with housing, can I help them with utilities. I say well I know a lot of agencies but I don't know a lot of agencies so I think the best thing to do is get the people out in the street, networking and talking among themselves and help each other."

Organizers say Saturdays In the Park will go on every week starting at 10 am as long as weather permits.

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