Catholic Social Services hosts its 7th annual Out of School Time Picnic at Neshaminy Shore Park
By Samantha Bambino
It was a jam-packed day of summer fun at Neshaminy Shore Picnic Park last month as 650 children and almost 100 staff members enjoyed music, swimming, face painting and several hours of all-you-can-eat hamburgers and hot dogs. This was the seventh annual Out of School Time Picnic hosted by Catholic Social Services to unite all the children from its various after-school programs.
For 20 years, CSS has served children in grades K-12 throughout the Philadelphia region. According to Aggie Healey-Wilson, administrator for CSS, its first after-school program kicked off in 1998. Though it was small and what Healey-Wilson described as a “mom and pop program,” it gained steady traction over the years.
CSS soon expanded to offer before- and after-school care for “at-risk” kids, those who would be home alone for several hours until their parents got home from work. The programming ran Monday-Friday until 8 p.m. and Saturday for a half day. The goal was to cover all the time frames when care was most needed.
After several years, the current Out of School Time, or OST, programs came into play, which offer after-school care, summer camps and activities during holy days and holidays when schools aren’t in session. At its heart, OST is a preventative effort.
“We’re trying to avoid situations if they’re left alone for four hours,” Healey-Wilson said. “We’re creating safe havens.”
Parents are able to receive relief and peace of mind knowing their child is not only somewhere safe, but also engaging. In the OST STEM program, students get hands-on science experience through urban gardening and 3D modeling while in the arts program, they can hone their skills in dance, sewing and cooking.
In total, there are 12 programs at 12 Catholic school or family service center sites throughout the city. Though the programs are based out of certain locations, any student able to travel to one is welcome to participate.
At each site, a six- to eight-week summer program is hosted by the location’s director. One year, a director decided to take a group on a trip to Neshaminy Shore Picnic Park, a scenic spot in Hulmeville that specializes in reservations of 40 or more guests. The kids had so much fun that park representatives asked if they’d like to revisit and make an entire event out of it. Naturally, the invitation was extended to the other sites as well, and the picnic has become a favorite OST tradition for seven years.
At 10 a.m., about 650 kids and 100 staff members were seen piling out of 20 school buses, all excited for the day ahead. From the time of arrival until 1:30 p.m., the park provided a buffet of food so the children could eat as much as their hearts desired.
“They can get a hamburger at 10:30 a.m. then go back for a hot dog at 1 p.m.,” Healey-Wilson said.
The park also provided a DJ and enough activities to keep the kids and adults entertained for hours, including swimming, mini golf, a moonbounce, line dancing and a tattoo station.
The kids were able to meet and interact with peers from different neighborhoods, learning games like double dutch and ghost in the graveyard that they may not have known prior to the event.
“The kids in the Northeast may have different cultures than those in the Southwest, but they get to know each other and play together,” Healey-Wilson said.
The picnic is not only an opportunity for the kids to meet new friends, but for staff to reunite. Of the 100 employees who attended the event, six participated in an OST program themselves as children, as well as CSS’ Summer WorkReady Program, which teaches work etiquette and skill attainment, as high school students.
CSS’ Out of School Time programs receive DHS funding, so Healey-Wilson explained they charge a nominal fee. However, if a family is struggling financially and CSS sees the need for the child to join, they will offer a scholarship. No one is ever turned away.
For more information, visit cssoutofschooltime.org. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com