More than 600 people were expected to attend event
About 80 Merced County residents volunteered their time to help
BY ROB PARSONS
MERCED – A community frequently criticized for lacking youth activities came together over the weekend for a free event packed with carnival-style games, art projects, food and even some free haircuts.
The annual Day for Kids, hosted by the Boys & Girls Club of Merced County, was part of a national push to establish an official day for children, according to Tony Slaton, the club’s executive director.
“So many times our kids are needing our time, our attention and Merced has been called out lately for not having many safe activities for them,” Slaton said. “Events like this are a step in the right direction. They may not be the answer, but they’re definitely a step in the right direction.”
About 600 people were expected Saturday at the McCombs Youth Center on West 15th Street.
It was perfect timing for Alicia Carrillo, whose young children were looking for something to do during the weekend.
“There isn’t a lot for kids in Merced, so this is really nice for them,” she said. “They’re having a lot of fun.”’
Her children, Jazmeen and Celisa Hayes, and 1-year-old Joziah, enjoyed the games. Celisa, 4, knocked over square blocks in the live-action Angry Birds-style game in the center’s parking lot.
SO MANY TIMES OUR KIDS ARE NEEDING OUR TIME, OUR ATTENTION AND MERCED HAS BEEN CALLED OUT LATELY FOR NOT HAVING MANY SAFE ACTIVITIES FOR THEM.
Tony Slaton, executive director, Boys & Girls Club of Merced County
The nationwide event encourages children to be physically active and focuses in particular on young people in underserved communities where children frequently face the challenges of poverty and obesity.
A report last year from Children Now said about 30 percent of kids in Merced County live in “concentrated poverty.” The Merced County Public Health Department has reported more than 40 percent of Merced children are overweight.
Inside the youth center, 7-year-old Natalie Lopez sprinkled glitter on a drawing of a heart. “I made it for my mom and dad because I love them,” she explained.
Yessenia Martinez, a 15-year-old volunteer with the Merced Police Department’s Explorer Scout program, helped Natalie sort through different colors for her artwork. “I like doing this with kids,” Martinez said. “They’re so curious about everything and they get really artistic and creative. It’s fun.”
Martinez and other police Explorers were among the 80 or so people who donated their time and talents to Saturday’s event.
Louise Castaneda, a student of the Milan Institute of Merced, pitched in with her beautician skills. Castaneda and other beauty school students donated free haircuts, hair styling and manicures.
It was an opportunity for aspiring beauticians to practice their trade while helping the community.
“We like to double-dip in our activities as much as we can,” Slaton said of the free haircut service. “It’s another way for us all to come together in a positive, family-friendly way for the kids.”