"I like canoeing. I don't like sailing. It's too slow," Tiara said as she enjoyed the lunch of pizza that was part of the day.
Rita Sweeney, who had been assisting in the program and took over as project coordinator in the third and final year of the $1-million federal grant, looked out at the lake full of boats and children and said the program accomplished its goal.
As leader of the after-school program, which is offered at all of the county's six elementary schools, the middle school and high school, Sweeney wants the children to have new experiences.
"I'd say many of these children have not had an opportunity to be in a boat of any kind," she said.
She credits her husband with involving the lake.
"It was the mayor's idea," she says of her husband, Liberty Mayor Steve Sweeney. "He'd like to see the lake used more for family recreation, and children in particular."
Paddleboats and canoes were purchased by the city. The school program bought four sailboats and has ordered some large rowboats that each can accommodate eight students.
In choosing programs, which have included storytellers and drama presentations, Sweeney tries to find a balance of fun and education.
"My goal is to provide meaningful after-school and weekend activities that provide hands-on experiences and academics, and promote lifelong recreational activities."
To combine fun with knowledge for boating, she involved middle school science teachers Kathy Fogle and Karen Weddle with water testing. Jerry Foster, a Liberty lawyer and experienced sailor, told the children some basics about sailing before turning them loose. Roger Weddle with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife discussed water safety before they even dipped a toe in the water.
As further proof of the city's commitment to having more people use the water for recreation, a dock was built to make loading the boats easier. Employees at the water treatment plant built it with assistance from inmates. The next project will be to build a boat house for storing the water crafts.
Rita Sweeney does not plan to let the boats sit in storage. The next two Saturdays - Oct. 4 and Oct. 9 - should find students on the water.
She will pair high school students with elementary school students in a mentoring program. The training for high school students will be held Oct. 4. Boating will be part of that activity. The younger students will join their mentors Oct. 9.
Sweeney expects the older students to act as role models for the younger ones. "I hope that as a result of that, students will have something to promote their interest in attending school regularly and having good behavior in school, and see the benefits of recreation."
The Oct. 9 program will be part of a day-long event called Lights On After School. It begins with breakfast for elected officials and representatives of community agencies. Students will speak about their involvement in after-school programs. During the middle of the day, the mentors and younger students will go boating. The event will conclude with a chili supper and demonstration of an archery program.
Sweeney hopes that the day of events will convince the community of the need to continue the program after the grant ends. Many will need to volunteer to keep the program running, she says.
"Once the grant funds are used, it will have to be that. A great deal of our efforts this year will be toward sustainability of the program. Through the coordination of community and school and community volunteers, we should be able to continue these programs."
Plans to seek grant
She also will seek another grant. The state now is in charge of the funding.
In the meantime, the children were glad to be soaking up the sun at Lake Liberty at the Super Saturday. Their only regret was lack of time.
"Most of them said, 'I would like to have had more time actually getting to experience each kind of boat,'" Sweeney says.
Once the children selected their vessel, time limits meant they could only sail, paddle or row. The novelty of sailing did not entice everyone.
"The bravest souls are trying them," Sweeney noted.
Maybe in time, the children can even pass along some of nautical knowledge to their parents. Sweeney says the city will have to discuss whether the boats can be checked out from the boat house.
"That's in the long-term plan."
Emily Toadvine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.