Programs to Continue At Lazy Creek Despite New Management

Children in the Lazy Creek Preschool begin the "Fun and Fitness" day by playing with t...

Children in the Lazy Creek Preschool begin the "Fun and Fitness" day by playing with their teachers and volunteers.
A popular park and recreation center in Menifee will undergo a change in management next week, but the public is being assured that all programs will remain the same.

The Lazy Creek Park and Recreation Center, which has been operated by Riverside County for several years, will be managed by Valley-Wide Recreation and Parks District starting July 1. The decision was made by the Menifee City Council in May after months of deliberation.

"It really is a natural progression for a city to take on its own programming and facilities as it matures," said Robert Lennox, director of community services. "Who runs them, though, is a different issue."

Valley-Wide has maintained parks on the east side of Menifee for about 25 years, and will now start operating parks on the west side. They have a good reputation with the public and can provide quality management at a cost affordable to the city. Currently, the city council is working with Valley-Wide in drafting a three-year contract that will include the operation of Lazy Creek and the Kay Ceniceros Senior Center.

Although the city's contract with the county expires June 30, council members said they would like Valley-Wide to keep the majority of current employees working at the park and recreation center. According to Gustavo Bermeo, special projects director at Valley-Wide, they were able to keep their promise.

"[Those employees] are great assets to that area because they've been there for so long and know the people in the program so well," he said. "I think it would be in our best interest to keep that consistency."

Valley-Wide is also keeping the programs at Lazy Creek, such as the preschool and summer camp, pretty much the same. Children such as Christian will continue to receive quality instruction and support from teachers and volunteers such as Jack Donaldson (right).

"We don't expect anything to change come July 1," said Bermeo. "If anything, we're going to add to the existing programs. We don't want to change anything that people are used to in the community."

Parents have definitely gotten used to the Lazy Creek Recreation Center, which has been offering programs for children since 1990.

"I love being able to offer families affordable, quality recreation," said Sharon Hanson, programs manager at Lazy Creek.

Hanson, who helped develop the recreational programs offered, has been there for 25 years. She is now seeing a second generation of children come to Lazy Creek.

"Kids who grew up in our program in the early years now have their children enrolled in our programs," said Hanson.

Lazy Creek offers a variety of low-cost programs year-round for children ages 3-13. Their preschool, Mommy & Me classes and after-school programs are especially popular.

Currently, Lazy Creek is holding preschool summer theme days at the recreation center three days a week. It's a jam-packed two-hour session where children play, learn and make crafts according to the theme of the day, which could be anything from bubbles to dinosaurs. All activities follow a schedule so children can get used to following the kinds of routines they'll encounter in kindergarten.

Hanson said there was a line of parents out the door and into the parking lot to register for the program, which is now fully booked.

Kristina Eskildsen is one of the parents who got a spot for her child in the program. She said she's seen a difference in her 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Olivia, since she's been enrolled.

"She used to not be social, but now when she sees a kid, she'll introduce herself," said Eskildsen. "She used to play in the corner by herself, but now she will actually interact."

Another parent, Michelle Pate, said the Lazy Creek preschool has kept her children on track and prepares them for kindergarten. Her 5-year-old son, Derric, recently graduated from their preschool. He already knows how to write his name, recite the alphabet, and count to 20.

"[Kindergarten] has become more competitive," said Pate. "If you don't know how to do those things, you're already behind."

Jackie Gomez, a preschool teacher at Lazy Creek, said the programs have become more rigorous since her own children were enrolled.

"It must've changed in the last few years," she said. "Now, if your child starts kindergarten in August, they'll be learning how to read in October."

Gomez explained that their preschool has adapted to meet the new kindergarten requirements. By the time a child graduates from their program, they should have learned the alphabet, how to count to 10 or 20 and how to write their names. They must also be able to recognize different colors and shapes, and being able to read a little is a big advantage.

It may seem like there's a lot of pressure on preschoolers these days, but Gomez said children adapt really well.

"I love that the kids are able to learn so fast," she said.

To learn more about the programs Lazy Creek Park offers, call 951-679-8092. The park and recreation center is located at 26480 Lazy Creek Road.

In order to make a seamless transition, Valley-Wide came in two weeks ago so summer programs wouldn't be disrupted. According to Lennox, they will spend the first year looking at the programs to see how they can improve or enhance them.

"[Valley-Wide] just has to make sure they provide the same level of service, if not more, than what the community's come to expect," he said. "So far we haven't heard anything negative about it, and folks are continuing to sign up."

Jackie Gomez (right) and volunteer Janelle play My Little Ponies with a couple of preschoolers.

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