There is one place in St. Helens where all sorts of activities are available. From bingo night to candle-making classes, fly-tying classes to Zumba, a lunch group for senior citizens to playgroups for very young children, and many more activities - St. Helens residents can avail themselves of them all.

They are all available through the St. Helens Parks & Recreation Program, founded in 2018, and a program that St. Helens City Council just recently resolved to help fund by instating a $2 Community Recreation and Parks Fee to appear on residents’ utility bills as a line-item fee in January of 2020. The city estimates the fee will generate about $160,000 annually for programming.

The recreation program started in February of 2018 when St. Helens School District (SHSD) Superintendent Scot Stockwell approached the city council about having a recreation program in conjunction with the school district to have afterschool programming for children.

Since then, the program has grown with the help of a $25,000 grant from the Ford Family Foundation in April of 2018, and then another grant of $20,000 from the Columbia Pacific Economic Development District in September of 2018. Matt Brown, City Finance Director also said in a city council work session that funds from the General Fund have helped sustain the program.

Because the program is new, St. Helens residents may not be aware of all the activities the center offers.

The Chronicle sat down with Shanna Duggan, Recreation Coordinator; Ryan Ward, Youth Lead; and Crystal Farnsworth, Communication Officer to discuss upcoming programs.

St. Helens Recreation Center programs run in three-month cycles. With the summer program finishing up, and a new fall program about to begin, it is the perfect time for St. Helens residents to be informed about new classes that will soon be available.

In the fall, the program is continuing a lot of classes and activities, such as their playgroup for young children ages newborn through six, tween nights on Saturdays in October for children ages 9 through 13, an afterschool program partnership through SHSD at Lewis and Clark Elementary School, as well as parent cafés for parents to come together for support in childrearing.

There will be a few new activities as well, some made possible by new partnerships with the recreation program. One of those partnerships is through Griffin’s Place, a nonprofit in Hillsboro which will work with the recreation center to provide activities such as game nights and art nights for developmentally disabled individuals. Another partnership is through FC Columbia County, which will provide competitive soccer for the recreation program.

Partnerships currently exist with Northwest Regional Education Service District as well as Columbia Health Services. They both work with the recreation program to support the parent cafes. There is another existing partnership with the Senior Center, which provides an additional space for recreation programs.

According to Duggan, the goal of the partnerships is to provide expertise for recreation center users in fields that regular staff at the recreation center may not have, as well as have the partners mutually benefit from shared facilities. Partnerships mean the center does not have to lose money trying to find an additional space.

They also run the gamut.

“We partner with businesses, we partner with nonprofits, we have individual partners,” Duggan said.

Costs for programs vary widely, but Duggan said the overall goal is simple: keep it cheap.

“We try to keep it as free as possible if we’re not having to buy things to support the night or provide additional staff time. So, things that we’re already going to have staff there for usually are free,” Duggan said.

Free activities this past summer included community game nights, movies in the park, a Speed Friending event, open soccer, tennis meetups and open gym basketball. There will also be a class this fall on fly-tying which is free.

The general costs of other events include $5 for teen and tween nights if pre-registered and $7 at the door, $30 for parent-and-me soccer in the fall, $235 a month for the afterschool program, $130 for the fall fitness class package and $5 per person or $10 per family for monthly Bingo night.

When the recreation program was just beginning, Duggan said she went to several sources to find out what types of classes people would like. She went to different service groups and talked to teachers with the school district, as well as had a voting system at the fall bazaar to see what people would like for programming.

Duggan’s research yielded a lot of need for teen, tween and kids’ classes. Once those activities are offered, “That’s how people start hearing about us,” Duggan said. “And then they start seeing the other stuff we offer as well.”

While the recreation center offers a lot of classes, such as fly-tying, Zumba, dance and HIIT, Duggan said the center is struggling to find teachers. She gets a lot of people asking about certain fitness classes, but she said they don’t have anybody who’s licensed to teach that certain fitness class.

If one is interested in becoming a teacher at the recreation center, there is an application process to go through.

“We have a packet of information that they fill out to see if it’s a good fit for us because we want to make sure it’s community related, that it’s not anything that’s promoting something that we wouldn’t be promoting,” Duggan said. “Then we look at it to see how that fits in with it.”

Farnsworth said the program is interested in offering all types of activities, not just fitness or art classes.

“So, if somebody you know is a CPA and they want to teach financial classes for adults, we want that stuff included in here,” Farnsworth said.

Already a diverse array of classes exists, but this past year has mostly been a test year for the program.

“[It’s] been a lot of trying out different things, seeing what works, seeing what doesn’t, and then refining it. Next year, I think we’ll be starting to get into a rhythm,” Duggan said.

Evolving programming aside, the recreation center leaders all felt that the program had a lot to offer to the community.

Ward, now 21, said he has lived in St. Helens all his life, and felt like when he was younger, he could not branch out and meet people outside of the people he knew through sports. He sees younger kids in the program being able to branch out and meet new people.

“I think it gives an opportunity for people to come and be involved and do and try new things that they haven’t done or otherwise would have to go to Portland,” Ward said. “But now we’re doing more stuff here.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article listed Ryan Ward's age as 16. He is 21. The Chronicle regrets the error.


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