How the Warsaw Parks Department is Providing Community Opportunities with Operation Round Up
It doesn’t take long for newcomers to Kosciusko County to discover the beauty of the local parks. Kosciusko REMC is motivated by the needs of its members, and the Warsaw parks department is helping meet those needs. With KREMC’s 2021-2022 Operation Round Up grant, Recreation Director Stephanie Schaefer told us how the 2022 family carnival helped provide fun and connection for the community. The carnival first took place in 2006, and 2022’s attendance broke records, with over 700 participating families, or 2,500 attendees.
The 2023 family carnival is scheduled for July 29 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The event is a cause for great anticipation, but for now, enjoy this Q&A with Stephanie Schaefer.
KREMC Interviewer: Your Operation Round Up grant helped support the 2022 family carnival in Warsaw. Can you tell me about the need for the carnival and how the grant helped the community through this event?
Stephanie Schaefer: When I was given the budget for my first year as recreation director, I saw the need for extra money. The more support that we have, the more people we can reach. My main goal here, as the recreation director, is to keep things very low-cost or free so we can reach everyone within our community. That’s what motivates me daily. Any little bit can help – the more money we have, the more we can add to this carnival. And the more that we add, the more other people in the community see what we’re doing, and then we get volunteers. With enough volunteers, we know that we have enough people to cover each area to make the day run smoothly.
My goal is to cover the entire Central Park area. Right now, with the amount of money that we have, we’re filling about half of that. The more we have, the more people come to it, and the less time they have to wait in line to do something. For some of the new things we added, like the hamster wheels, the lines were pretty long for that. The cost to rent things, like games and bounce houses, is going up. It doesn’t just take one person. It takes several businesses to come together to make that happen. Our staff works hard at the carnival – it takes a lot of planning.
KREMC Interviewer: How has the community responded to the carnival?
SS: We have great feedback from the community! During the carnival, you can see a child walking around with their face painted or with balloon art, and you can see the smile on their face. Everyone has positive feedback, saying they had so much fun for just $10 and thanking us for what we do.
This year, the carnival really grew. We saw record numbers. With the $10 wristband, they can do whatever we have there to offer within the 3 hours. We want to keep costs low for the community.
KREMC Interviewer: What was your favorite part of the family carnival last year?
SS: This year, we added the stilt walker. I caught myself watching her because she would walk through and interact with all the kids and even the adults, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. So many different people come to the carnival, and everyone commented on the stilt walker. Some of the kids would come up to her and try to figure out why she was so tall. It’s not every day that you get to see a stilt walker, so I think it amazed a lot of the kids. It was my favorite new addition, and I would love to have her back! It was something people weren’t expecting, and that’s a good example of something we were able to add because of grant money.
KREMC Interviewer: How can the community support the local parks right now?
SS: Sponsorship is needed. Especially through COVID, a lot of businesses have gone through changes, and the sponsorship is lower. Even if it’s just a small amount, every little bit adds up, and soon, we’re able to offer more. Another need is volunteers. At an event that big, without our volunteers, we can’t make it happen. There are so many kids that don’t have opportunities to go on family vacations or go to amusement parks. So, if we don’t offer things here, sometimes those kids miss out on a lot.
KREMC Interviewer: How do the parks better our community and support our neighborhoods?
SS: Each park is unique. A lot of parks have the same facilities, but they’re unique because they’re in different areas. If you have them, you should use them. You can just get lost in a park, and it’s so relaxing. My husband and I go to national and state parks, and of course, I spend a lot of time here in our local parks. I think more people should get out in nature. The parks are absolutely important to our mental health and our well-being.
At the parks department, we strive to be community-based. We represent the city of Warsaw, so that’s what we do as the parks department. We do nothing but work with the community. Everything we do is based in our community, to make the community better and to give people opportunities to do things they wouldn’t get to do otherwise.
The more parks that we have, the more neighborhoods that can be reached. I’ve added some programs at different parks this year to have people come and see what that park has to offer. At Center Lake, we have kayak and paddle boarding rentals, which give people more opportunities to use the lakes. We provide passes for nighttime fishing, so we’re reaching people there. I’ve also moved movie nights to several different parks, so we’re not just using one park. We’re reaching more parks and more people.
For example, I moved a movie night to Kelly Park because there are so many people who live in that neighborhood and can walk to the park to participate in things we have there. People who live in that neighborhood saw the monster truck pull up and were curious about what was going on in the park, so they came out, and pretty soon, we had people sitting on the sledding hills and watching a family-friendly movie. It gave people who don’t have a vehicle a chance to come and join us because we move around from park to park.
We also had library stories with the Warsaw Community Public Library. They join us, read a book, and then we have some activities afterward. We had kids begging their parents to put their shoes on and come join us in different parks. Kids that are home every day without a lot to do – we’re putting those activities in their parks where they can just walk a block or two from their homes. That ended up being very successful. We reached hundreds of children this year, and it’s free!