Town parks are a hotbed of activity over the summer, as Wantagh and Seaford residents head out in full force to enjoy the outdoors.
With the Town of Hempstead hosting a variety of activities for children in July and August, someone has to make sure that they are safe and having a good time. Those are the summer recreation aides, seasonal workers who are typically high school and college students.
Throughout the town, there are dozens of summer workers who help out with the summer programs, including arts and crafts, cheerleading, archery, street hockey and a variety of other sports.
“It’s good work for in between school years,” said Rich Marte, 23, of Wantagh, who has worked eight summers at Forest City Community Park. He just graduated from SUNY Cortland with a degree in exercise science, so supervising children in sports is right up his alley.
Marte was at Seaman’s Neck Park in Seaford last week, watching his kids compete in the annual street hockey tournament against teams from across the town. Many of the children come back to play year after year, so he has gotten to know them well. “We’re here for them,” he said.
While Marte is a veteran employee now, 17-year-old Connor Greene, who will be entering his senior year at MacArthur High School, spent the summer working at Forest City for the first time. He coached hockey two days a week, and also did some landscaping.
Greene used to play hockey with a youth league in Bethpage, so he was able to share his expertise with the children. “I like teaching kids, showing them what I know about hockey,” he said. “They’re energetic. I like seeing them grow as hockey players.”
Working as a recreation aide was Greene’s first summer job and he said he enjoyed it. He liked his co-workers and plans to return next year.
Alexi Lee, 17, a senior at Seaford High School, was a first-time recreation aide at Seaman’s Neck Park, also her first summer job. She helped keep the park clean and worked with children.
Barbara Simms, the town’s recreation director, said there is a supervisor at each park, and then a handful of aides. “They’re our backbone,” she said. “We couldn’t run the programs without them.”
Simms said the aides have many responsibilities, from communicating with parents to coming up with creative activities. It’s their job to make sure that the children are having fun, she explained.
The minimum age to be a recreation aide is 16. The summer programs, which are winding down now, are for children ages 5-13 and are free. Simms said that the town receives lot of applications each year for summer help, but there are often limited openings as people come back year after year.
One of them is 18-year-old Cassidy Hartmann, who worked at Seaman’s Neck Park for the second straight summer. The recent Wantagh High School graduate will soon be heading to Binghamton University.
“I like having responsibility,” she said of the job at the park. “It makes you feel good.”
Jessica Wilson, 20, of Seaford, returned for the fourth summer. Her favorite parts of the job were coaching the cheerleaders and overseeing arts and crafts activities. Working with the children made her summer enjoyable.
“I want to be a teacher,” she said, “so it’s pretty much preparing myself for it.”
Wilson added that the children she works with are very energetic, which made each day go by quickly.
Simms said that the job appeals to aspiring teachers like Wilson, who want to gain experience working with kids. It is also a good job for anyone who likes variety. “No two days are alike,” she said.
She added that many of the recreation aides attended the program themselves as children.
Hartmann said what really made the job worthwhile was being able to make some new friends. “I like the people,” she said. “It’s fun working when you’re with people you like.”