BY BARB BERGGOETZ
Katie Stoker remembers outdoor field trips the most — traipsing around state parks, taking in nature centers. Being a foodie, she also got a kick out of going to Bloomington restaurants, seeing what went on behind the swinging doors.
As an elementary school student, Katie looked forward to summers crammed full of activities — swimming, arts and crafts, games, sports — at Kid City Original and later at Kid City Quest. Operated by the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department, the day camps were the vision of then-Mayor Tomi Allison. When few summer options existed, Allison saw the need in 1993 to provide all-day care in a recreation setting for children.
Little did Katie realize how much impact those summer camps would have on her life’s path. Now, at age 23, she’s Kid City’s head inclusion counselor, so named because of work with children with disabilities.
“It kind of formed what I wanted to do,” says Katie, also a parks department staff assistant while finishing her psychology degree online from Ball State University. “I want to eventually work in a public setting with people with disabilities. I want to make their lives better.”
Katie is among thousands of youths who have attended Kid City programs over the years. Starting after second grade, she went to camp every summer, became a counselor-in-training, an assistant counselor, and, for the last five summers, a counselor.
“I loved it so much,” she says. “I think this job and the training and experiences definitely made me more confident in my skills and in what I wanted to do.”
The idea was to create more than just a fun place for children.
Paula McDevitt, parks department recreation services director, says, “We wanted to plan a day full of activities where children would learn about their community, know the landmarks, go on field trips, and explore the community together by either walking to sites or using buses.”
This summer, the department will again operate Kid City Original for 55 children in kindergarten through fourth grade and Kid City Quest for 20 youths in grades five through seven.
The kids, says Amy Shrake, parks department inclusion recreation coordinator, are kept active physically but also learn about their environmental footprint, including composting and recycling, good nutrition, animals, nature, city history, and how to make good use of their time.