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SPARK to replace PITS program this summer

This summer, Hastings Community Education and the Hastings YMCA have joined forces along with several other community partners to offer Summer Programs Arts and Recreation for Kids, a free summer program for youth in the community.

"(The partnering organizations) really had the same heart, the same mission in that we could do something bigger and better if we all worked together," said Sara Lawrence, youth enrichment coordinator at Hastings Community Education.

SPARK will offer 10 weeks of free programming for youth this summer at Lions Park and Three Rivers. The program will run 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday June 12 to Aug. 19.

In addition to various activities and programs, a lunch meal open to all ages will be provided. The meal will be part of the MEALS program housed by Hastings Family Service. The MEALS program is run by Loaves and Fishes.

"I think the biggest piece for me was filling the need for those youth in our community that didn't have a meal everyday," said Amy Rowan, outreach director at Hastings YMCA.

It was a culmination of a couple different factors that led to the development of SPARK, Lawrence said. Hastings Community Education received a $3,000 grant from Christ Family Church in Hastings around the holidays. The only caveat, was that they use the money to do some good work for kids in the community.

Lawrence and Rowan found out that the Playgrounds in the Summer (PITS) program was not going to work out this summer. Then the lunch program was thinking of pulling their program from Lion's Park and Three Rivers due to the lack of programming. Lawrence and Rowan said that those factors "sparked our conversation."

Lawrence and Rowan began thinking of what they could do to fill that need in the community and started conversations with other community organizations. Several other organizations and groups were willing to contribute and support SPARK. Lawrence said they were lucky to have the community support and build the program around the $3,000 grant.

An assortment of programming will be available throughout the summer. There will be an art truck, hip-hop dancing, puppetry, dodgeball, kickball, percussion and much more. A big calendar of events has been posted on the SPARK Facebook page.

While participation is free and open to the public, parents will need to sign a waiver for their child to attend. Waivers were distributed to schools this month and should have gone home in the Friday folders with students. Otherwise, the waivers can be signed on the first day a child will participate in SPARK.

In the last two weeks of the program, SPARK will be moved to one site at Our Saviour's Lutheran Church. In addition, a swim safety camp will be offered Aug. 3-4, 10-11 and 17-18 at the Y. The camp will be free and have transportation available, but parents will need to sign another registration form because it is a separate program from SPARK.

Groups and organizations who are involved with SPARK include Hastings YMCA, Hastings Community Education, Americorps promise fellows, Black Dirt Theater, Dakota County Library, United Way of Hastings, Hastings Family Service, Hastings Prescott Area Arts Council and the City of Hastings.

SPARK will continue to update their Facebook page throughout the summer with program updates, photos, notifications and more. Announcements will also be made via the page if programming is cancelled due to inclement weather. The Facebook page can be found at

Volunteers are still needed for the MEALS program. People can sign-up for two-hour shifts that involve meal preparation and/or transportation of the food to each meal site. Contact Mary Kocak with Hastings Family Service for more information about volunteering at or at 651-437-7134. A link to the volunteer sign-up page will be provided on the MEALS in Hastings Facebook page as it becomes available.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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