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Pop-up Recreation Lands in Wilkinsburg

July 26, 2016

Story and Photos by Craig Moreau

The sound of flip-flops running on pavement could be heard in the distance as two staffers were busy laying out soccer balls, jump-ropes and snack tables. On July 8, the Pittsburgh YMCA’s pop-up summer camp, called Y on the Fly, wasn’t scheduled to begin for another half-hour — yet a crowd of young kids was already forming in the green space of South Avenue United Methodist Church, a testament to both the need and success of the Y on the Fly program.

Take away the bricks and mortar and this is it — this is what the Y is all about,” says David Caliguiri, board chair of the PNC YMCA. He adds, “Being outside and playing, with music in the background, this is what summer should be for kids.

The Y on the Fly attempts to create a summer camp experience by way of outdoor activities and healthy snacks in neighborhoods identified as “recreation deserts.” According to a YMCA press release, “recreation deserts” are neighborhoods that lack a YMCA or other safe options for recreation.

Kevin Bolding, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, was excited for the Y on the Fly program, noting how it promoted the original mission of the Y to connect people and promote health.

He says, “People often get bogged down in needing to have a facility. That’s not always feasible and most importantly, it poses a problem for under-resourced communities.”

In organizing Y on the Fly, Bolding notes part of the program’s success was due to positive responses from area communities. “Connections yielded more connections when we asked our network where we should we go and who needs us most.”

One mother, Kendra, who brought three children to the event, says a program like Y on the Fly was definitely needed in Wilkinsburg. “This is just awesome. I love how much interaction there is with the kids,” she says. “

“And they get groups of kids who don’t normally hang out to mix and talk to each other. We see many of them at church but they never talk to each other. Here, they get to play with one another,” Kendra explains.

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Y on the Fly Coordinator Jordan Brown. Image: Craig Moreau. 

Play and connect seemed to be key themes in the event, marked by a heated impromptu soccer game organized by the program coordinator, Jordan Brown. Once a quorum of eight was established, he quickly divided everyone into two teams and it was game on.

When a triumphant “goal!” was shouted from one side, a player from the other team seemed unaffected as she began to dance in place to Elvis’s “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog.

It’s important to see older mentors having fun. It sets a good example that you can still play and have fun outside even as you get older,” says Brenna Burry, the program’s director who is studying recreation education at Seton Hill.

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Program Director Brenna Burry. Image: Craig Moreau. 

This stop was the 34th stop out of 100 this summer for the Y on the Fly van. Future stops can be found at the YMCA of Pittsburgh’s Y on the Fly website and there are hints that Pittsburgh Pirates Catcher Francisco Cervelli may make an appearance sometime down the road.

The Y’s summer-long program brings to life everything I love, including physical activity and healthy eating,” says Cervelli in a press release. “I’m excited to join the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh for the Y on the Fly program and bring health, wellness and play to so many families in our great city.”

Communications director Kesha Pate believes “Every kid deserves an opportunity to play and enjoy the summer” and hopes that the Y on the Fly program can help create those opportunities. Sponsors, such as Comcast Internet Essentials and PNC, have stepped forward to support the YMCA’s efforts help bring Pate’s belief into a reality.

As soccer balls, Frisbees and hula-hoops were in heavy use, preparations were being made for ants-on-a-log, the day’s self-guided healthy snack. “Hey, we got new people. What’s up!” Brown shouts as new groups of kids filtered in. They would soon don the look of their peers: big smiles and a little sweat on summer day in Wilkinsburg.