Largely through a word-of-mouth effort, park district administrators hope to use $1,000 to help needy families participate in various programs at the parks. Executive Director Larry Piekarz pitched the “scholarship” to board members last week, pointing to dozens of requests for financial assistance.

“We had people asking us weeks ago,” Piekarz said of the demand.

The money will be distributed on a first-come first-serve basis to families who can’t afford to pay the full price for various programs. Piekarz said the process for deciding how much assistance is offered will be somewhat informal, but hopefully fair. He and Erin Parchert, the superintendent of recreation, will make those decisions.

The park district does not currently offer any subsidies to users, said Piekarz. The money will be pulled from the existing budget.

At the Howard Mohr Community Center at the corner of Jackson and Desplaines, Director Karen Dylewski said she suspects the money won’t last long. Dylewski’s budget does not have a dollar amount set aside to help low-income families with fees, but the center does offer a sliding scale. Families also know that they won’t be turned away, said Dylewski.

“If there’s a family that’s lost their job or had their hours cut back, we work with them,” Dylewski said. “When a parent is in need, they know we’ll work with them.”

Though she could not estimate how much lost revenue the community center absorbs each year, Dylewski said the park district should expect its $1,000 to go quickly. The demand for social service programs and less expensive entertainment has spiked as a result of the recession. The parks, the community center and the Forest Park Public Library have each noted a significant increase in the number of customers they’re being asked to serve.

In years past, according to Piekarz, the park district has referred low-income families to other charitable organizations to help pay for programming fees. There is some success in handling requests this way, but the scholarship money will give the park a more direct way of helping its users. Also, the demand for such assistance has increased so dramatically, said Piekarz, that other organizations may not have the resources to help everyone.

“This year’s been especially hard,” Piekarz said.