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Willmar Community Education and Recreation Department program participation increases

Quiara Christenson, 7, works Wednesday on a homework assignment at Cardinal Place, an after-school care program located at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar. The program is offered through the Willmar Community Education and Recreation Department. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Thousands of people have taken advantage of programs of the Willmar Community Education and Recreation Department during the past year.

The department, a joint venture of the Willmar School District and the city of Willmar, provides a wide range of educational and recreational activities, director Steve Brisendine said.

Brisendine presented an annual report to the Willmar School Board this week and plans to present a similar report to the city soon.

The program's budget includes $2.2 million in expenses for the school district and $1.3 million for the city. Revenue includes money from a special community education tax levy and from federal and state aid and from fees paid by participants.

The Willmar Community Education Program and the city Parks and Leisure Department merged 11 years ago into the Community Education and Recreation Department. Since then, the number and variety of programs offered has blossomed, he said.

The Adult Basic Education program has grown from a consortium of four school districts to 10 districts. Funding for the program comes 95 percent from state funds and 5 percent from federal grants.

The program teaches English as a Second Language classes, helps with GED preparation, provides citizenship classes and helps students learn how to use computers.

The number of students in the program grew last year from 1,530 to 1,842. The average cost per student in the program is $342, according to the report.

Some of the popular programs provided for young people include:

- Rainbow Learners, an after-school tutoring program which helped 143 youth with reading and math.

- Youth Service, where high school juniors and seniors log about 1,000 hours of community service each school term.

- Healthy Active Willmar Kids, which provided activities in neighborhoods for 350 kids during the summer. Nearly 100 youth and family members participated in painting a mural at the Regency West community building.

- Sports activities including T-ball, soccer, baseball, softball, football, wrestling, basketball, volleyball and hockey, including activity programs in parks.

- The Child Guide Program, Cardinal Kids preschool and Cardinal Place after-school care program.

- Early Childhood Family Programs, including pre-school programs and family education classes.

The department works with a variety of agencies to develop new programs, Brisendine said. "We will work with everybody and anybody that has common interests."

The department offers adult activities, including sports leagues and classes covering a variety of topics. More than 10,000 people participated in some aspect of the department's adult sports programs last year.

Brisendine said the department is involved in several new efforts. One is working with other agencies to develop a comprehensive trail and pedestrian plan for the city.

The plan will come close to encircling the city of Willmar in a trail system, he said. Other plans include extending trails to schools and other destinations.

The program operates several facilities, including the Willmar Community and Activity Center, formerly the Willmar Senior Center. It also watches over 18 ball fields, five school buildings, the Willmar City Auditorium, 36 parks with nine shelters and the Willmar Civic Center.

A community garden at the Community and Activity Center has grown in recent years, from 12 plots in 2008 to 26 in 2009 and 39 in 2010. There is currently a waiting list for 10 more plots to be developed for 2011.

The Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center has grown in popularity since it opened several years ago. Use grew from 14,954 people in 2009 to 18,763 in 2010.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340