Guest blog post written by Urbana Parks Supporter Kristin Valdes
It came out each season, and there it was again in my mailbox, just waiting for me. A little paper magazine of all the fun activities going on for the season in the Urbana Park District. I liked looking through it and always saw things listed, like the nature walks and the educational programs- there really were so many things that existed for all ages. Some of the activities were free, and some had a very nominal fee. To me, nominal meant “not for me”.
I was an adult, by all accounts; a 21 year old, penniless veterinary student scraping by on the student loans the government would lend me for school. It didn’t help that I graduated from undergraduate school in 2008, when the entire USA seemed to collapse for the first time. There I was, a college graduate making $9 an hour because no one else was hiring when the housing bubble collapsed. So, there were no savings for veterinary school, as I had planned. The income I made was so small that the savings were, too— it all went to buy a single laptop that was required for classes.
Throughout school on any given month, it wasn’t unusual to be down to my last $12 of loan money for living expenses (this was even with my skills as a budgeting champ, but my finances were even tighter) so I looked for any enjoyable free activity I could find, and had to forgo anything else. The parks and recreation magazine, therefore, was one of my usual reads for enjoyable free activities.
During one particular season, however, I saw an amazing program I really didn’t want to miss. It was a kickboxing class. It was just a block away from my rental townhouse on Main Street…. and early enough I could go before my classes began (which usually kept me at school from 9-5). I was so excited I walked right over to register. I thought I had enough money for the class, but my debit card was declined. I didn’t have enough money for a gym class, which was no more than $50, at most. I was mortified, but pretty determined to take the class.
I found out there was a scholarship fund and asked if I would be able to apply. I may have been the first college kid to ask, I’m really not sure. What I do remember was that I was able to take the kickboxing class!! I never would have been able to do so with my extremely limited financial means without the help of the Parks and Recreation center. It’s been a while since I was that tight on funds, but I never forgot how that felt, or the kindness they showed me. It’s also been a while since the housing collapse, but with everything 2020 has brought, financial strain is quite high again. If my story sounds rough, but not a variation of your personal tale, thank your lucky stars and appreciate what you have!! If you have a few extra dollars (or more than that), consider donating money to the Urbana Parks Foundation so that all parents can allow for those wonderful opportunities the district provides for their kids, no matter their situation. Give a fighting chance for the college kids scraping by to have a little something positive in their lives.
There are so many great opportunities out there, thanks to the Park District. Help make sure that even the most meager lifestyle can enjoy them, as well as for the folks who are on hard times right now. Thanks for reading this, and thank you for contributing to help someone else enjoy the amazing opportunities at the Urbana Park District, too!