Local church reaches out to youth with 'Games in the Park' program

Rev. Rick Leone (right) and Paige Johnson play the part of sheep during a game of “What Time Is It, Mr. Wolf?” Saturday morning, Sept. 12, at Laurie Park. Leone is pastor of the Church of Our Glorious King.
Rev. Rick Leone (right) and Paige Johnson play the part of sheep during a game of “What Time Is It, Mr. Wolf?” Saturday morning, Sept. 12, at Laurie Park. Leone is pastor of the Church of Our Glorious King. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Roughly four years ago, members of the Church of Our Glorious King, in Huntington, embarked on a mission to reach out to their community.

Every Saturday in September and October since then, a group of volunteers facilitates "Games in the Park" at Laurie Park from 10 a.m. to noon.

The program is offered for youth in grades three through six.

Tom Bergler, program director, says there was a need.

"Four years ago, we felt that God was calling us to reach out to our immediate neighbors, specifically the youth in the neighborhood," he states. "There are a lot of children in the area and we wanted to provide a safe and fun environment for them to be together."

Bergler adds that the group named the program Eastside Neighborhood Outreach.

"Games in the Park" is one of the programs offered.

To get the program rolling, he says that volunteers started going door to door and informing parents about what they were planning to offer.

"It was very well received and we got positive feedback right away," he says. "Some of the adults even asked if they could join us on Saturdays."

An average of 20 to 30 children participate in Games in the Park each week and Bergler says he uses all his resources for volunteers.

He is also a professor at Huntington University in the ministry department and mentioned the opportunity to volunteer to students who were interested.

"Each year, we have several students who lend their time to helping with the program, Bergler states. "I also work with the Joe Mertz Center at the university, which focuses on serving others through various outlets. We have students who have volunteered through there as well."

The youth participate in various games throughout the two-hour program. Bergler says a popular favorite is tag and numerous variations of the game including blob tag, freeze tag and "sharks and minnows."

"We've also played traditional playground games, kickball, and some of the kids use the swings and jungle gym as well," says Bergler.

His wife, Sarah Bergler, says that as part of the program, they also offer a snack.

"What we found out that some of the kids who came to play hadn't had anything to eat yet for whatever reason," she states. "So we decided to provide a healthy snack as well."

Tom Bergler says the program doesn't cool off after the weather changes either.

"After it gets too cold to be outside, we offer various opportunities at the church," he states. "We have a Christmas party for all the kids who participated and we also offer our Tuesday Family Night, at 6:30 p.m."

Tuesday Family Night offers games activities and optional Christian education classes for those interested.

"The classes are only offered to those who specify that they want them," says Bergler. "People can still participate in all the other games and activities without attending the classes. We just saw the classes as another way to reach out to others in our community, those who may have scheduling conflicts on Sundays or are just uncomfortable with that setting right now.

"Our whole mission is to reach out to those around us and offer opportunities for fellowship," states Bergler. "We have seen positive results and have kept in touch with some of the kids who have left the immediate neighborhood. Sometimes we go pick them up to participate in our activities."

He adds that the long-term vision of the program is to expand into other neighborhoods.

"Someday, with more volunteers, we hope this is something that can be offered in multiple parks all over town," Bergler says. "However, we felt a call to impact our immediate surroundings, make a difference here first."

For more information or to volunteer, contact Bergler at 358-8193.

Laurie Park is located at 524 Swan St.