Kalamazoo Friends of Recreation helps fund youth for summer fun

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

KIDS' ALERT: It's the middle of summer! Get outside! Have fun! Swim, learn, play ball, make new friends, and.... yes, even play video games! And tell your parents it's doesn't have to be expensive.

Enrollment in Camp Kzoo, Kik Pool youth passes, and other Kalamazoo Parks programs for kids can be reduced in price for families who apply, thanks to Kalamazoo Friends of Recreation.  The organization covers 50 percent of cost of Kzoo Parks youth programs for those who apply 

Kalamazoo Friends of Recreation's goal is to encourage Kalamazoo's youth to be active, discover their passions, and interact with peers from different neighborhoods and income levels."There are a lot of families in this community who are financially challenged. When you have those kinds of challenges it makes it difficult to find safe places for your kids," Tressa Greschak, KFOR community engagement coordinator, says.

KFOR began in 1996; in 2003 they became a 501(c)3 nonprofit with the mission to promote public parks and recreational facilities in the city of Kalamazoo and to work with Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation to get more youth and families out and involved. 

Youth recreation fees can be difficult for some families to afford. For city residents, Kik Pool youth passes are $40 for a season, and enrollment in Camp Kzoo is $150. 

If a family needs help with fees, KFOR is there. And the only requirement is that you be a resident of the city. At the time, there is no requirement to show your financial state. 

Tressa Greschak, Kalamazoo Friends of Recreation community engagement coordinator.Greschak confirms, there is no KFOR income limit this year. "Through the end of the year, you kinda' self-identify," Greschak says. "As long as you live in the city, you'll be approved." Due to new grant restrictions, next year families will have to show proof of receiving some assistance, such as free and reduced school lunch.

Last year, 244 families received funding to participate in parks programs, and "there are a lot more families than that" who could be approved before breaking KFOR's budget, she says.

Thanks to grants, donations, and charity auctions, "We have more money, and we'd like to spend it," Greschak says.

"Weren't the poorest of the poor...."

"There are a lot of families, like mine, who weren't the poorest of the poor, but we were poor enough to where these programs are really important." 

Greschak thinks of her years as a youth living on Westnedge Hill. "This is something my family dealt with.... My mom was constantly trying to find ways for us to have a place that would be fun, a place that would help us be connected with our peers, and a place where we could be so she could keep going to work so she could feed us," she says.

"When I was a kid we had more families who had one parent that was at home, so it was, 'Bye mom, I'll be on the street next door,' and we just had the run of the area. That's something I really loved."

This decade, kids are facing many reasons to stay inside: safety concerns, gaming, and screens, not to mention the pandemic that, we hope, is in the past. 

Kalamazoo Friends of Recreation's goal is to encourage Kalamazoo's youth to be active, discover their passions, and interact with peers from different neighborhoods and income levels.Parks and Rec. and KFOR have broadened their offerings, "trying to encapsulate what kids want to do," she says. They've gotten kids to see their first hockey games at K-Wings' matches, gotten kids moving, and involved with Run This Town Youth. A wide array of sports — archery "was a very fun one" — are offered. 

And that includes esports — Kzoo Parks teamed with Western Michigan University to form middle school and high school esports leagues this past spring. 

KFOR helped fund gamers. The only requirement "was you had to play with a friend," she says.

Part of KFOR's goals is to get kids into "face-to-face relationship building," in addition to promoting active living, their site reads.

They help kids of all Kalamazoo neighborhoods, all income levels, get together to be active, learn and have fun, Greschak says.

Again, she thinks of her childhood. She wouldn't have wanted to "feel like I'm just a poor kid going to poor camp. It really helps to intermingle and make you feel like you're a part of something" that all the city's kids are doing.

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Read more articles by Mark Wedel.

Mark Wedel has been a freelance journalist in southwest Michigan since 1992, covering a bewildering variety of subjects. He also writes on his epic bike rides across the country. He's written a book on one ride, "Mule Skinner Blues." For more information, see www.markswedel.com.