by Jonathan Weaver
An annual summer “staple” of family fun before the school year returns this weekend in Ford City during the annual “Back 2 School Bash.”
Beginning at noon in Ford City Community Park along 4th Avenue, the New Life Center Church, Kittanning Salvation Army and Ford City Police will offer four hours of free activity.
New Life Center Outreach Coordinator Tara Garris said the church annually budgets for the community event. More than $2,100 was raised during the Armstrong Day of Giving in May with a total bill estimated at $5,000-10,000 between all those groups involved.
“At this point, it’s just last-minute preparations but, we’re definitely ready to go,” Garris said. “It’s a great thing for the community. We’re super-excited.”
There will be 30-45 free family activities– including a scavenger hunt, inflatable sports dome and juggler, according to Garris and Kittanning Salvation Army Lieutenant Amber Imhoff.
Lt. Imhoff said that volunteers packed nearly 400 backpacks to give to pre-registered income-eligible students as well, with an additional 60 being given to Children, Youth and Family Services earlier this week to kick off the upcoming school year.
“It took our volunteers about seven hours to pack everything up,” Lt. Amber said. “It’s been a busy week, but we’re thrilled to be able to continue this partnership for the community.
“It’s always a good day in the park.”
Corresponding with the Bash will be the fifth Ford City Police Bike Day, the fourth consecutive since it was restarted by former-Officer Jacob Ingram, said Police Sergeant John Atherton.
“It was a huge success, but there was a lot of overhead with the food, entertainment and the canopies,” Sgt. Atherton said. “In 2012, the New Life Center and Salvation Army approached the Ford City Police for security for the Back 2 School Bash and each time, we have participated in conjunction.
“This keeps growing each and every year.”
A total of 17 bicycles –up from 10 last summer – were purchased at Paul’s Auto Parts in Kittanning and WalMart through community donations, which Sgt. Atherton thanked volunteer office secretary Sandy Hutchinson for soliciting donations through local businesses and residents. She said businesses were “very generous with donations.”
Police officers will offer bicycle registration to children under 18 in case it becomes lost and stolen.
Approximately 400 helmets were donated courtesy of the Ford City Ambulance Service.
Ford City Ambulance Board of Directors has purchased the helmets for the past three events. Board Treasurer and 26-year Paramedic Al Harriger has responded to a bicycle accident – where the victim was not wearing a helmet and had to be rushed to the hospital – and sees many more riding the Rails to Trails without one.
“It’s the law for anyone under age 12, and a head injury is a big thing. You don’t have to be going fast – you can be sitting on the bike, fall over and strike your head on the cement and end up with a concussion or serious head injury,” Harriger said. “We hope by giving out the helmets it’s encouragement for the kids to wear them.”
“I hope we don’t run out,” Sgt. Atherton added.
Ford City High School Physical Education Teacher Stacy Klukan will fit children with proper helmets.
Sgt. Atherton said officers see many local and regional families biking along the trail. Riders are also welcome to follow Ford City Police during a bike ride along the Rails to Trails at 3PM.
PennDOT District 10 Community Traffic Safety Project Coordinator Jeff Grim will attend the event for the first time to teach children about bicycle safety as well as traffic safety tips that will come in handy as they grow up.
“I’m excited about the event – this is my first year being involved,” Grim said. “They have 400 bicycle helmets to give out and 17 bicycles, and we’re going to be adding a bike rodeo this year so the kids can show off some of their skills.
“We’re going to set up on the road behind the park and have cones and obstacles. We’re going to have a slow race where we see which kids can go the slowest to practice their balance and do a couple other activities.”
“A lot of people involved make it so successful,” Sgt. Atherton added.
All events are free and open to the public, with food costing a quarter. Those who register will also be eligible for other prizes – including an electronic tablet.