All-day summer programs for kids at Pecos Community Center are so popular parents have slept in Pecos Park just to be first in line when registration begins. Even after going to this extreme, about 100 parents are still turned away each year. That leaves city employees struggling, trying to find parents another community center that has room and that they want to go to.
"I wouldn't say we're better," said Cynthia Brown, facility manager for Pecos Community Center. "I would say that this center is in Ahwatukee and it's only 4 years old. It's newer and shinier."
Brown says they have nearly 100 people on their waiting list right now. The program can only fit 200 kids, and that has expanded from years past.
"This problem really stems from just incredible demand," said David Urbinato, public information officer for the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department. "The Pecos program is really good and really affordable, and each year there are just far more parents who want into the program than we have space to accommodate."
Some parents were upset this year when Brown sent out an email asking them not to sleep in the park. The parents who obeyed ended up in the back of a long line when they arrived first thing in the morning. Brown says officers did ask people to leave the park at 10 p.m., but some parents waited and snuck back in.
With no way of knowing who snuck back in and who was in line, the people in the front got in and the parents who slept at home did not. The city offered an alternative of going to a different community center that still has room, but some parents are still upset with the whole registration process.
"The city will continue to look at how to do things better as we do each year," Brown said. "We go through the questions every year about how to register differently. There are thoughts of a lottery, of mail-in, all kinds of different things. In this particular circumstance we tried to avoid people sleeping in the park and people snuck back in and got back in line. We're just trying to get through the aftermath of all the people who didn't get in. We're seeing if they can be accommodated or find a place where they can fit in."
This is Brown's second summer at Pecos Community Center. Before that she ran the program at the South Mountain Community Center. She says the programs there are the same, if not better. The program at South Mountain has free lunch and may include more field trips and be more educational because they partner with a charter school.
"This program is the program I ran at South Mountain," Brown said. "When I tried to tell people to go to South Mountain Community Center, it's just like real estate. They don't want to go in that neighborhood - but it's a great neighborhood. It's just that people aren't comfortable leaving their area."
Brown says she does take pride in her programs and as a mom she can understand the extra hassle involved in driving further to a different center. However, Pecos simply cannot hold anymore kids.
"I understand that this might be a tough alternative for working parents," Urbinato said. "During morning rush hour, it would take a good while to physically get to South Mountain Community Center.
"We understand their frustration. It's not really a registration issue. No matter how we structure registration, or what we tell people, frustration is inevitable due to the space limitations."
Even if the city found a good space in Ahwatukee to host the same program, money would still be an issue. Programs for children and the elderly have suffered with all the city budget cuts. City Councilman Sal DiCiccio says he's trying to make a difference, but that he needs citizens' help.
"They need to start contacting all their elected officials," DiCiccio said. "They need to say no pay raises this year. The city will say there are no pay raises. They hide it under the name merit and longevity. The citizens need to write to every elected official, including me, and say: ‘Do not vote for any pay raises, merit or longevity for city employees this year.' Then they'll have the money to provide these services."
For now, the city is still scrambling to try and find another location that could work. If it's unable to do that parents may be forced to either go to South Mountain or pay almost three times the amount to put their children in a private summer program.
Urbinato suggests registering online in the future to avoid lines the day of registration. He added that even though the full-day programs are full there is still room in general interest classes at the center.
For more information on city parks and programs, visit phoenix.gov/parks.
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