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Park Praise Parties attract children

The two little girls, dressed in identical outfits, hold hands and swing their arms back and forth. They take a few steps forward, hoping someone in the small crowd around them will get the hint.

"You're helping her across the street," someone says, identifying the scene the girls are acting out.

It's charades with a message -- in this case, how to be a good neighbor -- and it's just one activity the kids gathered Wednesday morning in the grassy roundabout at Spruce and Pine streets will play as part of a weekly Parks Praise Party held by members of Faith United Methodist Church.

The parties, aimed at pre-school and young elementary school students, are a new attempt this year to reach out into the neighborhoods around the church.

"Our church has been looking for a way to do some outreach in the community," said Wendy Ochs, who has organized the events this summer. "We're right across the street from this neighborhood, and we know there are families with kids.

"We just want to share the message of Jesus, but also give kids something clean and fun to do."

The parties have found a receptive audience. Attendance is down on this particular Wednesday -- several of the kids who typically attend are on vacation -- but most weeks the Parks Praise Parties have drawn 20 to 30 kids. Some come with their parents. Others come with day care groups. They play games and sing songs. One of the most popular activities appears to be a game called splish, splish, splash, a version of duck, duck grey duck that involves sprinkling water on kids' heads rather than calling out the names of colorful waterfowl.

There are usually a few new faces each week, and once people show up they tend to come back.

"That must mean everyone's having a good time," Ochs said.

Organizers didn't set a lot of goals going into the summer, but so far they're happy with the response.

"It's been a good turnout and everyone seems to have a lot of fun," Ochs said. "I don't know if we've necessarily gotten any new faces at church, but we are getting some new faces every week at the Park Praise Parties. At the end of the summer we're definitely going to let the families know about Sunday School."

The Parks Praise Parties take place at 10 a.m. Wednesday mornings in the roundabout at the intersection of Spruce and 12th streets.