Photo courtesy Deborah Skinner.
By Stephen J. Kotz
There was a time, not that long ago, when come summer vacation, neighborhood kids would gather on a front stoop or at the closest park to plot their strategy for the day.
“Times are changing,” said Deborah Skinner, the director of the Youth Resource Center of Sag Harbor. “The kids are spread out. They can’t just come out of their houses and meet their friends. Everything is a car ride away and someone has to set up a play date.”
Enter the Safe Summer Beach Program, or “Beach Night,” where kids from middle school to high school can gather at Long Beach to hang out with their friends.
“This is a place that is centralized, where they can enjoy what we enjoyed as kids,” said Ms. Skinner.
Beach Night, which began 16 years ago, is targeted to kids entering sixth grade all the way through high school, although Ms. Skinner said it typically draws a younger crowd, with a falloff in participation after ninth grade.
Starting Monday, June 30, the program will run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. That’s a tad bit earlier than past years, Ms. Skinner said, and is a concession to parents “who just can’t stay up that late” waiting to pick up their kids, she said.
There will also be one other change this year. For the first time since the program was launched in 1999, there will be a fee of either $10 for a one-time visit or $50 for the entire summer. The reason? Insurance.
“We have our own liability coverage and it costs about $10,000,” said Ms. Skinner, who, because of the fee, has been holding registration sessions to sign kids up ahead of time. The last of those sessions will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 29, at the equipment storage trailer at the south end of Long Beach.
“It’s a modest fee,” she said, adding that she was optimistic it would not result in a drop-off in attendance and that efforts would be made to assist those families who simply cannot afford it.
Where else, she said, can parents leave their children where they know they will be safe? “I look at the parents when they drop the kids off and I look at them when they pick them up,” said Ms. Skinner who is assisted by a team of a half dozen college students who supervise the program.
The official opening night this year will take place on Wednesday, July 2, when the band Red Tide, made up of Pierson and East Hampton students, will perform. There will also be a soccer night, a summer Olympics, basketball tournaments, Capture the Flag, karaoke night, scavenger hunts, a drama night, and, if possible a movie night and a “celebrity” dunk tank night, at which teachers and principals will be asked to take the plunge for fun.
There is also an arts and crafts activity every night, which Ms. Skinner said, “is an ice breaker for the youngest ones. They can sit around the arts and craft s table, and have a place where they fit in until they feel secure enough on their own.”
Activities are vetted through a youth advisory board, made up mostly of middle school students, who meet during the year.
About the only activity that is not allowed is swimming, which is too risky after nightfall. “I’ve had kids come own with a towel over their shoulder and I tell them, ‘Hand that towel back to your parents,” Ms. Skinner said.
Because the program is funded by a number of different sources, including the Sag Harbor Village, North Haven Village, Southampton Town and Suffolk County, Beach Night is open to all kids, whether they are in town for a week’s vacation or live across the street in Bay Point.
“The thing I love about the beach program the most is it is a good way for our kids to meet kids from all over,” Ms. Skinner said. “We have kids from all over the state, lots of kids from the city and even some from all over the world. And the next thing you know, they are going to the beach together or playing soccer together.”
That, and it provides kids “a chance to push back from the computer and get away from the TV and get a little fresh air,” he said.