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New Kids Up! board takes the reins on Bainbridge

Six-year-old Chloe Vanwagner races across the playground at Battle point Park Thursday afternoon. Volunteers will gather next Saturday to repaint and freshen up the 7-year-old play structures. The park, which quickly became an island icon, is busy year-round. -
Six-year-old Chloe Vanwagner races across the playground at Battle point Park Thursday afternoon. Volunteers will gather next Saturday to repaint and freshen up the 7-year-old play structures. The park, which quickly became an island icon, is busy year-round.
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Seven years ago, an island-wide fund-raiser culminated in the construction of a new play structure at Battle Point Park. Far more than a mere jungle gym, the many-tiered, multi-faceted wooden extravaganza, erected by roughly 400 people in the space of a weekend, constituted a pint-sized homage to Bainbridge that quickly became a beloved local landmark.

Now, the old board has passed the torch to a new guard.

“They grew out of it, so they were happy to hand it over,” said current Kids Up! board member Annie Grattan. “At that point, we were happy to take it. Naivete is a wonderful thing.”

Upon completing the playground, Kids Up! gifted it to the park district. Because of the preponderance of art and special features built into the playground, however, they agreed to retain ownership of the structure’s maintenance.

The new board, comprised of Grattan, Debbie Menagh, Vicki White and Carrissa Barbee – all parents whose kids are of an age to enjoy and use the playground to its fullest capacity –  stuck with the original, straight-ahead mission to keep the playground solid, safe and functional.

To that end, in conjunction with the playground’s seventh anniversary, it has organized a “paint party” to take place on July 19. Plans include sprucing up the basic structures as well as collaborating with the artists who created the specialized elements to restore or repaint, as appropriate.

When it convened, the board had another thought as well: to expand Kids Up’s efforts in the realm of family support.

The playground offered a well-tested, well-used meet-up and play space for youngsters and their parents. But a structure can only provide so much, well, structure, and ever since the 2007 closure of the island’s Parent Child Center, where three out of the four Kids Up board members had met and become friends, some parents felt that Bainbridge had lost an important family resource.

The brainchild of educational consultant Lydia Harrison, the PCC opened in 1996 as a program of Helpline House. First held in the Commodore Options School building near Bainbridge High School, and later at Woodward Middle School, the PCC offered a range of services to parents, grandparents, caregivers and childcare providers involved with the birth-to-six community.

Popular ones included a library; a “lending closet” for short-term supply and equipment loans; and regular drop-in play groups that enabled parents to sit and chat unencumbered while their children played in a secure area.

In conjunction with several other Kitsap-based organizations, education and social services also played a significant role. The PCC offered parenting classes, first-aid instruction, car-seat checkups and weekend workshops, as well as having a social worker on hand a couple of days per week for assistance and crisis intervention.

All of these services were offered at no or low cost.

“My original intent, and the way the Parent Child Center evolved, was to have a continuum of services and programs for the community,” Harrison said.

Last spring two island therapists, Sarah Townsend and Francie Powell, formed an ongoing meeting to offer postpartum support to new parents, a gathering particularly targeted toward helping with postpartum depression and other emotional issues surrounding new parenthood.

As attendance grew, Townsend observed that not everyone who came was specifically seeking help for postpartum depression. They also craved the type of broader-based, family-focused support that PCC had offered.

“It’s the dyad, or the family, that’s the common denominator,” Townsend said. “It turns out that there are all these (family-focused) services, but none of them are accessed very well. There’s no hub.”

So even as the Kids Up crew was percolating on the PCC, which had from the get-go been part of the new board’s mission, Townsend, too, was looking around at ways to try to create some cohesion among those who worked in the fields of pregnancy and early childhood on Bainbridge. At a working breakfast earlier this year, the camps converged and began to talk about the possibilities.

Finding space for PCC –Grattan, Townsend and Harrison all noted – was the biggest priority, because the type of hub Townsend described couldn’t have a home at the playground.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as, if the working parent travels a lot, the parent with the kids needing to get out of the house when it’s been raining for three months, just to talk to an adult,” Grattan said. “And there are places to do that, but none of them where the parent can relax. We’re serving a large population just by providing a large space where you can have adult conversation.”

Grattan added that among members of the Bainbridge “preschool set,” whom she’s deeply familiar with, having three young children, she knows many people who met their closest friends at the PCC.

“As the U.S. population becomes more transient, and moves farther from their families, they need more places where they can meet like-minded people.”

Next steps for Kids Up are to get that play structure painted next Saturday. Long-term, they’ll evaluate fund-raising options for the PCC; start trying to generate community interest; and eventually, rent or buy a space, depending on what resources become available. If and when they have the money, Grattan said, they’ll do whatever they can with it space-wise.

Harrison, who is acting in an informal advisory capacity this time around, said she thinks parents in the community have waited longer than they would have liked for the resurrection of PCC. She had young children when it opened, so knows first-hand how valuable a resource it can be.

“I was very sad when it closed,” Harrison said. “I always called it my little baby. And just like when you have a baby, they stumble a little bit, and fall, and blossom. It was a really nice resource for the community, and for families.”

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Up with families

Volunteers are welcome for the Kids Up “paint party,” from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 19 at the Battle Point Park playground. Shifts will be from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. Safeway and T&C will provide food. For information about the playground or the PCC project, or to reserve childcare, email kids_up@yahoo.com.

Kids Up is also soliciting help from artists who originally contributed to the playground. Those available to help preserve their work can also email kids_up@yahoo.com.

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