After almost a year-and-a-half of trying to create little pockets of celebrations in the midst of a pandemic, the Town of New Paltz is getting ready to start throwing some community get-togethers and movie nights where everything is free and everyone is welcomed. The initiative is spearheaded by Jim Tinger, veteran director of the New Paltz Youth Center.
The Youth Center will be hosting the first annual New Paltz Community Picnic from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 24 at the Field of Dreams, where there will be a bouncy house, barbecue, outdoor games, volleyball, a sprinkler for water fun, arts and crafts and music. “When Phoenix [Kawamoto, director of the Town’s Office of Community Wellness] and I started thinking about it, we realized that we don’t have a ‘community day,’” mused Tinger. “We have a lot of events, and some incredible events, but not one for the entire community to come and enjoy. When I was little, I remember going to company picnics with my parents and playing kickball games and having a barbecue and playing with all kinds of kids. That’s what I’m imagining, but for the residents.”
The next weekend, on July 31, the Town will host a community outdoor movie night at the Field of Dreams featuring the film Star Wars: The Force Awakens on an inflatable screen. The movie will start at 8:30 p.m., but the festivities will begin as early as 7 p.m. “People can bring picnics and blankets or chairs,” said Tinger. “We will have some outdoor games and free popcorn and a s’mores-making station.”
The Youth Center director said that they had wanted to get the original Star Wars film, but that this was untenable on account of strict licensing agreements. “There are only certain movies that you’re allowed to purchase the rights to if you’re going to show them to an audience,” he explained. “It was $300 to rent the film, and we can only show it that day. We have this 20-foot screen, which is kind of funny-looking, but when it inflates, it’s incredible.”
For someone who has his pulse on the state of youth in the community, Tinger said that ever since the county and state gave the green light in terms of gatherings and relaxing COVID-19 restrictions, the events that the Youth Center and Office of Community Wellness host have been packed. “Kids are starving for things to do after being in isolation for a year. It’s one thing to tell a kid that they can’t leave the house for two weeks. That alone would impact their mental health. But to keep them isolated for a year-and-a-half? That’s like seven years in an adolescent’s life.”
During the school year, the Youth Center worked hard to help with the online schooling, but Tinger admitted that it was a challenge to help keep kids off social media and videogames when they were supposed to be “on their computers ‘in school’ for eight hours a day.”
Now that they’re allowed to congregate again, Youth Center activities are thriving, particularly their day trips. “Usually, summer is a slow time for us, but this year we’ve been very busy going on field trips to Six Flags, the Trevor Zoo, the Moriello Pool, Minnewaska State Park, Zoom Flume, going on hikes and bike rides and the movies. I think we had 30 kids at the movies the other night.”
From his perspective, it’s great to see kids interacting and socializing again. “You never know what’s going to work, so you have to just keep trying things. Our biggest challenge is finding vans big enough to get the kids to places.”
Meanwhile, Tinger did note that, while he usually is tapped by parents and kids in the summer to help them find a job, this year, local businesses and contractors and industries who are in need of hiring more employees are calling him. “If your kid needs a job, send them my way, because there are a lot of employment opportunities right now.”
As for the community picnic and movie night, Tinger said that it would be great if people could register just to help give the organizers an approximate idea of how much food to prepare. You can go to https://bit.ly/2SmXjxE to register. The events are completely free and open to the public. The rain dates are July 25 for the picnic and August 1 for the movie night. The events are being sponsored by the Town through the Youth Program, the Office of Wellness and the Department of Parks and Recreation.