Youth financial assistance program expands options for summer activities

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 | 7:27 p.m. CDT; updated 4:50 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Columbians looking for ways to save on summer fun are looking to the Department of Parks and Recreation more than they did last year.

A reduced-fee season pass for outdoor pools is one of four options for youths who are eligible for the low-income specific Youth Enrichment Services program offered by the department. As part of the program, children ages 2 to 17 are eligible for reduced fees for three of the following activities a year: participation in recreational classes — such as swimming lessons — 20 passes to the Activity and Recreation Center, 20 passes to an outdoor pool or a season pass to the outdoor pools.

In addition, one adult over 16 who accompanies the child under 10 with a reduced-fee pass is granted $1 admission to the pool.

“Everything’s a little more expensive,” said Gary Ristow, the department’s recreation manager. “This is just another avenue (to save people money). We are running significantly ahead of where we were at this time last year.”

After a family submits an application for financial assistance with the proper documentation, the department reviews the application.

The department will push applications through within one to two weeks during the summer months because the pools are of a seasonal nature, Ristow said.

The department encourages people to call first to see if they are eligible for this program based on the guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s school lunch program. The financial assistance is not offered based on wages alone, so some families may fall outside the guidelines when all sources of income are considered.

“There will be no financial assistance unless you ask,” Ristow said. “We encourage people to apply.”

The program has already received and accepted more applications than they had at this time last year.

In 2007, more than $29,000 of the $35,000 allocated for the program was used; a related program, Financial Assistance for Adults, used more than $6,200, Ristow said.

The financial assistance program was revamped six years ago when the Activity and Recreation Center opened.

“When the ARC opened, one of the many concerns of the city and Parks and Recreation was accessibility,” Ristow said. “We did an extensive review of financial aid programs across the country. Ours is one of the best policies in terms of providing access to facilities. Our city council has been progressive in recognizing there is a need out there and providing the funding to meet that need.”

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