From a podium set up on the mound of a refurbished ball field, Mayor Nutter threw rhetorical heat in the sunshine yesterday.
He challenged parents and community groups to increase coordination and support for "safe and enriching" summer experiences for youth through new initiatives of the city's Recreation Department.
As June 19, the last day of city schools, approaches, parents face "the summer scramble," Nutter said, speaking from experience. "But most importantly, they want to know, 'How do I keep my children safe?'
"It's time that we give our young people an option other than hanging out on a street corner. If you are going to say no to certain activities, you have to give them a yes," Nutter said, pitching hard for the new programs at a news conference at Hancock Playground, on the gritty seam between Ludlow and Fishtown.
A key element of the new programming, which is funded through the Recreation Department's $38.9 million budget this year, is the decision to extend the day camps run at 10 of the city's rec centers to include youths up to age 16. Previous eligibility was capped at 12.
The goal, said Nutter, flanked by Recreation Commissioner Sue Slawson, is to create meaningful experiences for notoriously hard-to-engage teens.
The camps will host guest speakers and conduct trips to city landmarks, training in conflict resolution, and a job fair, among other activities.
More than 18,000 children can be served through the camps and other types of programs, said Nutter. He said slots were still available and encouraged parents to sign up through the city's Web site,
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Teaming with the Philadelphia Youth Network, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Youth Environmental Stewardship Program, and a network of city pool lifeguards, the Recreation Department will employ about 950 young people in summer jobs.
Another focus this year is "Play Ball," an initiative to bring baseball back to "12 underserved communities in North, West, Southwest and Northwest Philadelphia."
"We felt like baseball was dying a little," said Slawson, who praised donations from the Philadelphia Phillies organization, and the nonprofit group Pitch-In for Baseball, for helping to restore and supply equipment for 42 recently improved ball fields across the city.
Regarding security, the initiative calls for the Philadelphia Police Department to replace the private security firms that had guarded rec facilities in the past. The cost will come out of the Police Department's budget.
Between the incident-prone hours of 6 and 10 p.m., police will patrol on foot at 12 of the most problem-plagued centers in the city's nine toughest police districts.
Further, police will visit and sign in at all rec centers twice a shift. Sergeants will check the log books to assure accountability.
In addition, officers will be assigned to the 20 pools with the worst histories of disorderly conduct.
Echoing Nutter, Deputy Mayor Don Schwarz said "no matter how many police patrols" are assigned, a safe summer for city youth "is only possible if parents embrace" the initiatives, too.