Effort to launch town program seeks volunteers, buy-in
A Facebook group created this weekend by parents to explore a path to revive a Tewksbury town-run recreation program signed on almost 350 members in less than 36 hours. Many residents have registered to actively volunteer in the effort, say organizers Amanda Gouin Marino and Kate Bugda Gwilt.
The community group, named “Tewksbury Families for Recreation,” also has Mary Hesson-Goon as treasurer. There is a website at www.tewksburyforrecreation.org where interested residents can sign up to assist or just stay informed.
Note that Bugda Gwilt is also running in the sole contested race for the April 1 town election. She’s a candidate for an open seat on the Board of Health facing George Ferdinand. She lists preservation of open space as a signature initiative on her website and says the rec center effort aligns with an interest in improving resident health through recreational opportunities.
“I was approached by Amanda a few weeks back, once people started learning about my desire to maintain open recreational space for the town, and we decided to join forces in an attempt to restore recreational programming and ultimately a recreation center in town,” said Bugda Gwilt. “We have a plan for an upcoming meeting with the town manager. So far, we have over 50 volunteers who are willing to be active participants in this effort. Further, we have had conversations with several Select Board and School Committee members who seem supportive of our efforts. We are absolutely thrilled by the community response, and we look forward to hosting an open meeting for interested individuals in the coming month.”
There are examples that the group can follow. Neighboring towns including Wilmington, Lowell and Reading have programs run by town staff that employ local youth and offer a variety of year-round and summer activities, including casual sports, such as tennis, flag football or pick-up basketball; arts and crafts; movies or trivia contests; and social events like concerts, open mic nights and dances.
“It’s inspiring to see families come together to try and fill a gap in our community,” said School Committee member Kayla Biagioni-Smith. “A rec center has the possibility to bring many benefits to town. Specifically, it will help our youth connect outside of school and traditional sports or activities in a safe space. I look forward to joining the conversations.”
Recreational programming, with robust summer activities and hiring of local teens, was also a campaign plank for Select Board member Jayne Wellman, who like Biagioni-Smith has signed on to assist in the effort.
“I’m thrilled to see residents rallying around the renewal of recreation programming and the rec center,” said Wellman. “I look forward to exploring these ideas further, developing an action plan and eventually bringing forward solutions to Town Meeting.”
It’s been some time since the town has had a recreation center.
Long-time residents may recall that in 2012, the former director of the Tewksbury Recreation Department, Roy Patterson, was charged with larceny under $250 and violating the municipal employees’ conflict-of-interest law. Other rec center employees were also charged. The resulting dissolution of that department resulted in the Tewksbury schools taking over the Livingston St. summer day care program, which is now run by contractor Alphabest.
Previous to the 2012 shutdown, Tewksbury teens and pre-teens enjoyed a dedicated center with a snack shack, pool and ping pong tables, and programming geared to their interests.
Town Manager Richard Montuori told the Carnation that he looks forward to meeting with the Tewksbury Families for Recreation group.
Given energized parents, support by elected officials and successful models to follow in neighboring towns, could we see a revival of recreation?
If online engagement is any indication, we just might.