Daycare services at the community center in Forest Park can be had for $75 a week, a price that hasn’t changed in years despite a steady demand. On occasion, Director Karen Dylewski even tells a family struggling to pay the already meager fee to make payments whenever they can.
Those occasions may become more frequent.
In the last few months, Dylewski and other daycare staffers overhear their young charges talking about out-of-work parents and family vehicles being sold. It’s a sign that the economic recession can’t always be hidden away from children, she said, and that coping is becoming more difficult. More so than in times of prosperity, Dylewski said services like those provided by the community center become crucial.
“We can raise the prices, but that’s only going to turn those parents away or make them put a key around their kid’s neck, and that’s not what we want to do,” Dylewski said.
At the Howard Mohr Community Center and across the street at the Forest Park Public Library, the village is seeing an increase in the number of families looking for affordable services, according to employees. More books on personal finance are requested, more kids are enrolled in inexpensive programs and more often than not, those responsible for filling the requests said they can tie their workload to the economy.
“We definitely see more people coming to the programs,” Kate Niehoff, adult services manager at the library, said. “If I had to guess, I’d say that’s due to the economy.”
The library recently hosted a workshop with the Citizens Utility Board, a nonprofit group that seeks to help Illinoisans cut costs. At least 100 people turned out, said library Director Rodger Brayden. Meanwhile, the number of free workshops that teach computer skills is being doubled as patrons look to boost their earning power and polish resumes.
“Every time we run a cycle of those classes, it’s the California gold rush to sign up for those,” Brayden said.
And it seems people aren’t turning to these agencies just for the necessities. Increasingly, recreational needs are being met by the community center and the library.
During the month of January, the library saw 3,479 DVDs fly off the shelves. There’s no charge for taking a movie out of the library, just as there’s no charge for borrowing a book. According to Brayden, DVDs are a big part of what’s driving record circulation numbers.
In the fiscal year that ended in April 2008, patrons borrowed more than 120,000 titles, including books and movies. He expects that figure to exceed 150,000 when the current fiscal year ends next month.
At the community center, Dylewski is seeing a bigger turnout for social programs such as dodgeball, which costs only $2 for kids to participate. Some 25 to 30 kids are playing now, she said, compared to only a handful when the program started.
Every Wednesday, the center hosts a recreation night for kids and it has seen a growing number of participants in recent weeks. Special events, like a recent theme party exclusively for girls, are also drawing bigger numbers, said Dylewski.
Another inexpensive option for Forest Park families is the park district on Harrison. Director Larry Piekarz said he’s seen small increases in the number of program participants this winter, but nothing that indicates to him that people are seeking shelter from more expensive options. The test, he said, will be this summer when school lets out and families may be forced to forgo annual vacations. Sales for pool passes could be impressive.
Though it’s not in his programming rosters, Piekarz did offer some evidence that the park is bearing witness as people’s resources dry up. On a daily basis, he said, two or three people stop by looking for work.
“Anything,” Piekarz said of their employment hopes. “You feel bad for them, but I don’t have anything.”