Val Verde families go to first springtime Parks After Dark

Children visiting Parks After Dark sat at one of several activity areas. As with other Parks After Dark, they are open to the nearby communities. Ryan Mancini/The Signal

Los Angeles County’s Parks After Dark held its first spring installment at Val Verde Community Park on Sunday.

“When you’re in a low income neighborhood and you don’t have funding to do certain things, it’s very nice and refreshing to see people are actually looking out for you, extending that hand,” said Mister Johnson, one of the event supervisors.

This spring session started on Thursday, then continued Friday and Saturday. Children had access to all the free activities at their disposal, including bingo, flag football, boxing, indoor games and three-on-three basketball. Other activities emphasized on healthy living or nature, so supervisors would lead children on walks through the park, planting, flower pot decorating and a timely egg hunt.

Parks After Dark started as a gang prevention program across three parks in the county. It’s since ballooned to 33 parks, focusing more on family unity for disenfranchised neighborhoods, Johnson said. In 2018, the program received the Best in Innovation Award by the National Recreation and Park Association.

Community health worker Reina de Cuellar teaches Donald Rubio, grounds maintenance worker, how to conduct CPR at Parks After Dark on Saturday. Ryan Mancini/The Signal

The program extended to take place during the winter and spring. While the winter session was very cold, one day of snow brought out hundreds of visitors to the park, Johnson said. Each iteration of Parks After Dark coincides with school breaks during the winter, spring and summer. In terms of outreach, turnout typically originates from word-of-mouth between neighbors, rather than fliers and social media, Johnson added.

Saturday’s event was Johnson’s last in Val Verde. He will lead the Park After Dark program in Sylmar, where there’s a higher attendance.

“There’s a high demographic there, of course,” he said. “They also want me to run the sports program up there.”

Jerri Patton was one of the parents who stopped by the park with her daughter Annelise. They painted a birdhouse on Friday and came back anticipating the egg hunt.

“This is our first chance to see it,” Patton said. “We were excited to see this resource, so we came by.”

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