The Parks, Recreation and Facilities Department may begin a fundraising campaign to save the Park and Play Program. in which recreation staff visit parks, including Kennedy Park, above, to provide free games and activities for children. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — Three popular Parks and Recreation Department programs are impacted by the city’s proposed budget, but fundraising could save one of them.

The Finance Committee has asked the department if it could solicit donations to reverse some of the cuts in next year’s budget, which councilors will vote on later this month. The cuts decrease funding for the before and after school programs and eliminates programs for senior residents and Park and Play.

The summertime Park and Play, where parks staff host free games and activities at playgrounds in the city, may be salvageable.

The programs are victims of a proposed 20% reduction in the $2.3 million parks, recreation and facilities budget.

The department doesn’t typically raise money for its programs, but it does have access to an online fundraising platform, which has been used in the past for the skate park expansion, the Portland Opportunity Crew and park amenities such as trees, benches or water fountains. It was also used to raise money for food, shelter and other services for an influx of asylum seekers staying at the Portland Expo last summer.

“We have the technology, it is just with a limited staff, we would be fairly limited in the number of campaigns we could do both in terms of running the program and raising money for it,” department Director Ethan Hipple said.

The department will look into the fundraising, Hipple said.

However, donations won’t return the before and after school program to full capacity because the number of children that can be accommodated has been reduced to 45 children at each site due to pandemic social distancing requirements and available space in school buildings.

The senior adult program, which organizes trips and activities for senior citizens, is being discontinued until there is a coronavirus vaccine, Hipple said.

“We cannot run it because of the pandemic,” Hipple said of the program that includes roughly 500 seniors throughout the year. “It is just not safe to do so right now. This is an audience that is particularly vulnerable.”

However, the Park and Play Program, in which members of the recreation staff visit playgrounds at Kennedy Park, Stone Street, Munjoy South and Peppermint Park during the summer to offer children a camp-like experience that includes free games and activities, could be salvaged through fundraising.

“It is a popular program, but there is no real revenue associated with it, so it was one of the first things to get cut, unfortunately,” Hipple said of Parks and Play, which costs $20,000 to run.

The Portland Parks Conservancy, set up in 2018 to raise private funds for recreational programming and projects, may be able to help raise money

Nan Cumming, executive director of the Portland Parks Conservancy, said the amount of help it could provide would have to be weighed against its agreement with the city, which she said “says we should be additive funding in that we are not supposed to raise funds to replace what has traditionally been city-funded.”

Cumming said any conservancy campaign for the program would also have to be weighed with its other projects, including the launch next summer of Portland Youth Corps, a program to hire up to 24 teenagers ages 14 to 16 to work in parks, trails and outdoor spaces while getting mentored on outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship.

 

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