The River Forest park board got a visit from neighbors Monday night when a delegation from the Park District of Oak Park urged the board to reconsider a decision to stop paying for the Township Youth Interventionists.

Mark Gartland, Oak Park park board president, praised the at-risk-youth ambassadors who, he said have helped train staff at the Stevenson Teen Center on Lake Street and at the new Longfellow basketball courts.

“They have identified problems we didn’t know about,” said Gartland. “With gang graffiti and wannabe gang graffiti you have to nip it in the bud. The interventionists come into the parks and they know who the problem kids are. If they see them they can identify them.” Gary Balling, executive director of the Oak Park parks, also attended the meeting.

Earlier this year the River Forest park board balked at paying $4,117 (or 1.6 percent of total costs) for the program.

Township Youth Services Director John Williams asked the River Forest board to reconsider, saying, “It’s a bargain, what we’re offering for you.” He told the board that the township might lower the contribution from River Forest parks, or even absorb it, but what they really wanted was “buy in” to the mission of the interventionist program.

At Monday’s meeting, park board President Dale Jones said the issue was with taxpayer money. “What are we authorized to levy in taxes? We don’t have indoor facilities… We have passive spaces that we provide for recreation…we don’t pay the police department to police the parks.” He argued that the program was out of the scope of the park board’s mission. Jones agreed to put the interventionist issue back on a future agenda.

Commissioner Molly Hague asked if any training had been given to River Forest staff by the interventionists and was told it had not. She asked Park Services Manager John Beto about whether drug paraphernalia or graffiti was found in River Forest parks.

“We find beer cans at Priory Park … by the Fenwick softball field [the darkest corner of the park.] But no gang signs. We never find graffiti in the bathroom. Never,” he said.

Also at Monday’s meeting: The board agreed to apply for Federal Parkland Acquisition and Renovation for Communities (PARC) funds through the State of Illinois to help defray the costs of the planned platform tennis courts to be constructed this spring. Executive Director Mike Sletten said the grant process would delay construction of the courts for up to eight weeks, but he believed the courts would be available for the platform tennis season.

Commissioner Thomas Cargie opined that a proposed electronic sign board was “out of character with River Forest.” The sign was proposed as part of a marketing plan for the park district since District 90 schools no longer send park district fliers home with school children.%uFEFF

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Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...