Bill Lunney and his wife Judie Pfeifer were feted last month for the decades they have devoted to building a Dane County park system that's one of the best in the country.
Now, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi has a plan to build on their work and connect a younger generation to those parks and help them appreciate the outdoor experiences and educational opportunities that await them.
Parisi has earmarked nearly $100,000 in his new budget proposal for a program he's calling "Get Outside!" It's aimed at connecting kids ages 7-14 who frequent the many neighborhood and community centers throughout the county with the variety of parks in their midst.
Under the budget proposal, Dane County will hire a youth coordinator for the park system to work with community centers and arrange visits to the parks. In addition, parks staff will visit the centers to work with students, acquainting them with everything from pine cones to animal and plant species.
It's an idea that promises to expand the horizons of young people that hopefully will carry them well into adulthood.
The "Get Outside!" initiative is one of two collaborative ideas contained in the proposal that will soon be acted on by the County Board.
Another $500,000 is earmarked for grants to neighborhood and community centers to help improve the mental health of young people. Parisi notes that there are increasing mental health needs among young people and the two dozen centers throughout the county often must deal with them. Problem is, few have enough resources to be effective.
Parisi said that the county this past year helped the Goodman Community Center on Madison's east side partner with mental health services provider Anesis to work with troubled kids. Mental health problems stem from a myriad of sources — poverty, family problems, bullying — and the Goodman pilot program made progress in addressing them.
The new budget funds will allow other centers to participate in the program. A half million dollars in county funds may seem like a lot, but problems that can be addressed now will undoubtedly pay dividends in the future.
That's what I like about Parisi. He's open-minded, experimenting with new ideas that may result in solving problems that others have been afraid to tackle.
Tying together our network of neighborhood and community centers with help from the county is worthy of our support.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.