Los Angeles County residents of all ages can salsa dance, express their inner artist, play sports or learn everything from how to cook to computer skills — all for free — at local parks this summer as part of the Parks After Dark program starting Thursday.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger kicked off the summer season, announcing funding to expand the program to 33 parks countywide.
Parks will remain open from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays from June 14 to Aug. 4 under a partnership with the sheriff’s department that aims to move local gangs out of community parks and bring neighbors together to enjoy free programming.
“People can take back their neighborhoods,” Solis said. “This is your park.”
Nighttime programming better suits the needs of busy residents and Parks After Dark opens up the parks to families who used to feel unsafe there, Barger said.
A wide range of games, classes, sports and indoor and outdoor events are available. Schedules and a list of participating parks can be found at parks.lacounty.gov.
A select number of PAD parks will feature the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s “mobile museums,” offering children special archaeology and ocean experiences.
In a video about the program, a mother said that during the rest of the year, she can only afford to let one of her children play sports.
“Regular season, I have to choose which of my kids gets to play basketball, soccer, baseball,” Veronica Cortez said, excited about her whole family getting a chance to play for free all summer long.
Parks After Dark began with the city of Los Angeles and the county has grown its participation over the last eight years. It has been shown to reduce crime and participants give the program good reviews.
“Parks After Dark builds resilient communities across Los Angeles County,” said John Wicker, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Health and social service agencies will also offer resources and the program created jobs for 330 teens and young adults who were hired during county job fairs and will work as recreation leaders and help with summer camp activities.
Another parks program starting this week is a federally-funded free lunch and snack program for children 18 and under at 50 county parks and 25 county libraries, as well as at St. Lucy’s Catholic Church in East Los Angeles, Gerdes Park, Hermosillo Park and Norwalk Park in Norwalk and the Gloria Molina Community Empowerment Center in Walnut Park.
Free lunches will be served between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Mondays through Fridays now through Aug. 3 and snacks will be offered between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., though times vary based on location.
The sites are located in communities served by an elementary, middle or high school where at least 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.