Guest essay: Use Park Ridge Youth Campus land for those who need it
Updated: September 10, 2012 6:16AM
PARK RIDGE — In the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate of Aug. 2, I read with frustration and disappointment that plans for the land currently owned by the Park Ridge Youth Campus will not include anything specifically targeted to those who need services most: the elderly, families in crisis, disenfranchised youth.
Instead, the plan currently calls for more homes to be built, space created to entertain and fields to bolster the sports programs in town.
To be transparent, I must acknowledge that our family has strong ties to the campus. Ed and Wanda Smail were houseparents when it was the Park Ridge School for Girls and both Dave Smail and I worked and lived on the grounds of the campus when it provided therapeutic group homes for emotionally and behaviorally disordered teens. The campus has always been a place that offered hope, structure, safety, an education, recreation and an opportunity for kids to experience living as a family when the one they came from didn’t function or couldn’t care for them.
To take the mission and goals of the Park Ridge Youth Campus and create space to include services that benefit our at-risk community members, would continue the tradition of the Youth Campus and celebrate the lives that have been touched and transformed over these past 104 years.
Some suggestions? Create a city-operated family-services agency that offers information, support and services to meet the needs of families so that they can remain here in our community. Move the Park Ridge Teen Center to the new grounds. As previous director of the Teen Center, I heard countless times that many did not know about the Teen Center in town and if they did, they thought that being at First United Methodist Church meant it was church-affiliated. It isn’t and the church has graciously allowed the Teen Center space since it opened. Perhaps a location change would increase attendance and decrease problems of unsupervised youths Uptown.
Herb Zuegel feels strongly that there be affordable senior housing. I agree and think that the location would be a win-win for seniors who want access to Uptown or take the bus on Oakton.
The Maine Community Youth Assistance Foundation, a coalition of community members dedicated to reducing underage drinking and drug use could benefit from office space. So could the not-for-profit center. Why not take the newly renovated, large office building in the center of the property and give our not-for-profits a place to work together? We all take from the same pie, solicit from the same businesses and the same residents. We should be working together for the betterment of all Park Ridge residents. The agencies I’ve listed above are the safety nets that catch those people who fall through the cracks. With all due respect to the Park District and sports organizations, most families and children involved in those are not falling through the cracks. They are connected, of means to afford the programming and find healthy ways to spend their time.
I would encourage residents who care deeply about this community and the people who live here to tell the Park Ridge Park Board that we can do better for those whom, for whatever reason, can’t do for themselves and need our support.
— Laura Smail lives in Park Ridge.