By Jason Wesseldyk
Many a parent has heard that lament from their children, particularly during the long summer break.
Thanks to a collaborative effort between the City of Otsego, Otsego Public Schools and Otsego Main Street, finding something for children to do on Wednesdays this summer won’t be an issue.
Through the Summer Fun for Kids program, a family-friendly program will be offered each Wednesday until Aug. 10. Programs begin at 6 p.m. at the new TOP Pavilion in downtown Otsego.
Otsego city manager Aaron Mitchell played in integral role in organizing the various events each week and coordinated those efforts with the school district.
“It was a brainstorming effort to come up with affordable entertainment that the families within the community would want here in downtown Otsego,” he said. “The idea is obviously to provide quality entertainment for residents to avoid having to leave town.
“It also has to be wide ranging, considering we are attempting to entertain kids of all ages. We anticipate this being an annual event series, so I am certain we will learn a lot this summer and the content will likely be one of those items we tweak from year to year.”
The program began June 15 with Touch-a-Truck, an event that featured vehicles from the Otsego Fire Department, the Otsego Police Department, Otsego Department of Public Works and Kalamazoo Speedway vehicles. The June 22 event featured the Kalamazoo Nature Center’s Birds of Prey exhibit.
The remaining programs are as follows: June 29—Family Art Night featuring the Patti Herm School of Dance and a painting area set up by the Otsego Arts Council; July 6—Bulldogs Beautify and Carnival; July 13—Paleo Joe Dinosaur Show; July 27—Family Fun and Fitness Night featuring a fun run/walk, yoga, hula hooping, line dancing and more; Aug. 3—Crazy Craig’s Juggling Show; and Aug. 10—Kalamazoo Air Zoo.
“I’m glad we’re able to use the new TOP Pavilion for these events,” Mitchell said. “It’s beautiful space. We first noticed how popular it was going to be by the amount of traffic it received over the winter with the ice rink, and this spring we have been able to coordinate with OPS for a band concert and the graduation for the virtual academy.”
And speaking of coordinating with OPS, Mitchell believes fostering a robust relationship between the city and the school district is of vital importance.
“In order for these type of events to occur in small communities like Otsego, multiple stakeholders will have to work together to share the work to get it across the finish line,” he said. “That makes sense, as we are all serving the same people. I think the relationship between the City and OPS has always been one based on working together and helping each other out when possible.
“The best example I can think of that being on full display was during the COVID lockdowns. OPS was willing and able to provide meals for anyone who needed them. They needed assistance with the transporting of them to drop off locations. Our DPW were able to help out during their time of need and it again was an opportunity to serve the same residents.”
Like the meals OPS provided during COVID, free dinner will also be available during the weekly Wednesday events for all children 18 and younger. Adults can purchase a meal for $2.
“This may be the best part of the program,” Mitchell said. “Not only is the access to three meals a day an issue for some of our residents, but when parents are now looking at $5-per-gallon gas and grocery store shelves empty and food prices 50 percent higher than last year, I am certain they are getting concerned with how getting through this summer is going to be possible.
“Many parents are simply trying to keep their kids fed and have enough gas in their tank to get to work every day. If we can lend an extra hand to those families, fantastic.”
Otsego food service director Julie Guthrie handles the planning and organization of the meals.
“Julie is one of those people that will not be out front and center to bringing the attention to her, but she is one of the most important people in Otsego,” Mitchell said. “She is constantly improving the lives of Otsego families.
The amount of effort Julie puts in to providing healthy food to all of our children is commendable, but she also goes above and beyond and wants to do as much as she can for her kiddos. She is the driving force behind the idea of Otsego Summer Fun Nights.”
In addition to the Wednesday evening programs, an afternoon program will also be offered on Wednesdays through Aug. 3. Those begin at 1 p.m. at Otsego Northside Park, with meals also available.
The remaining afternoon programs are: June 29—Mary’s County Critters Petting Zoo; July 6— Mark Rosenthal’s Exotic Animal Magic; July 13—Christmas in July featuring a visit from Santa, cookie decorating, ugly Christmas outfits and more; July 20—Paleo Joe Dinosaur Show; July 27—Bulldogs Beautify and Carnival; Aug. 3—Back to School Event featuring school supplies.