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Park districts provide financial assistance for recreation

Jason Akst, of Sycamore, closes his eyes as his son, William Akst, 7, jumps into the Sycamore Park District Pool on Monday, July 15, 2013. Many residents of local park districts receive help paying fees for park programs and facilities, although the Aksts do not.
Jason Akst, of Sycamore, closes his eyes as his son, William Akst, 7, jumps into the Sycamore Park District Pool on Monday, July 15, 2013. Many residents of local park districts receive help paying fees for park programs and facilities, although the Aksts do not.

SYCAMORE – Lisa Small doesn’t think finances should keep children from recreation opportunities.

Small is the interim director for the DeKalb Park District, which offers a scholarship financial assistance program to families unable to afford fees for district services and programs. She said it’s an important program and people who qualify should take advantage of it.

“Our goal is to get any child who wants to participate and make that happen for them,” Small said.

Scholarship assistance or other programs that offer reduced fees for people who want to enjoy recreational activities are not uncommon benefits at park districts.

Dan Gibble, executive director at the Sycamore Park District, said he’s worked for four park districts in Illinois, all of which offered a similar service. Anything a park district can do to help people enjoy their free time in a productive way is a positive thing, he said.

“They help create well-rounded individuals and help people stay physically active,” Gibble said. “We want to help that as much as possible.” 

The public pool is one of the most popular services at the Sycamore Park District among those who apply for the assistance program.

This summer, 20 out of 24 families who applied for the program asked for assistance on pool passes, said Bart Desch, Sycamore Park District’s superintendent of recreation. Desch said about four more families applied for the program this year than last year, and he’s seen a steady increase over the years.

The DeKalb Park District has awarded 151 scholarships so far this year, Small said. The district gave out 300 scholarships last year, and while the rate of scholarship applications has been steady, it’s increased over the years, Small said.

The program does have restrictions. A family or person can only receive a reduced price for one program a season. If there are classes offered from instructors who are not from the district, instructor fees have to be paid, Desch said.

Although the program offers full or partial reduction in prices, the district does not technically lose money for offering to do so, Desch said. If a class within the district has met its minimum enrollment, the district can allow someone who uses the scholarship program to enroll for a reduced price, he said.

The DeKalb Park District’s scholarship assistance program offers up 50 percent discount for programs. Unlike the Sycamore Park District, it also has a residency restriction. The program’s qualifications, which include income level and family size, are constantly evaluated to make sure they are relevant, Small said.

“I liken it to a coupon,” Small said. “If you get a coupon for something that is free and there’s a million of them, it’s not worth much.” 

As with the Sycamore Park District, the pool program is popular, she said. 

“I think it’s because it’s a family-oriented thing,” she said. “The whole family can do it, and it’s reasonably priced.” 

DeKalb’s program has been funded in part through the annual scholarship golf outing, which was held May 10 at the park district’s River Heights Golf Course, Small said. Last year the district raised almost $10,000 for the program and also receives grants from Target worth up to $4,000.

The golf outings and grants are enough to fund the program annually, Small said. The total amount for scholarship assistance last year was $10,279, she said. The amount the district has spent on the program so far this year is more than half of that. 

Sycamore Park District would not be able to expand the program because of its budget, Gibble said. However, the district continues to receive support from local service groups. 

Desch said many families, especially some who apply during the summer, return to district programs repeatedly.

“I hope it’s invaluable and gets people participating in things they wouldn’t normally get to,” Desch said. 

How to apply...

Sycamore Park District: visit the Community Center or Administrative Office to receive an application and submit it to the Park District Recreation Office at 138 N. Fair Street, Sycamore.

DeKalb Park District: download an application through the district’s website at or call the administration office at 815-758-6663 to ask for an application.

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