Practicing backflips on the shady grass. Laughing over an inside joke. Snapping selfies.
The best part? No adults staring over their shoulder.
It may not seem like a big deal, but for the kids who showed up to the Olathe Teen Bash at Black Bob Park last week, it kind of was.
“We’re doing what we want to do, without a parent or teacher telling us what to do, and it’s so nice,” gushed Paige Garza, a sixth-grader at Indian Trail Middle School. “It’s nothing like recess.”
Paige and her friends were just a handful of the 100-some middle school students who showed up for the annual summer event, which is hosted by the Olathe Parks and Recreation Department.
On a beautiful Thursday evening, the teens and tweens swept the park, playing basketball, bouncing around in an inflatable obstacle course, and donning silly, colorful hats in a photo booth. They were given free funnel cake and snow cones. After playing outside, they enjoyed a private pool party at Black Bob Bay.
“My friends and I had a lot of fun in the photo booth and we ate a lot of funnel cake,” said Gracya Snowbarger, a sixth-grader at Chisholm Trail Middle School. “I’m looking forward to meeting people I’ll be going to middle school with this year.”
The city introduced the party three years ago as a way to reach those kids caught in an in-between age.
“They’re too old for the children’s activities, but they’re not old enough to hop in a car to drive to a friend’s house,” said Nichole Asquith, the marketing manager for Olathe Parks and Recreation. “So, we wanted to give these kids a fun outing before school starts. It’s a chance to meet people outside their social norm.”
It’s a party with a message too. The Olathe Teen Bash is free with the donation of any school supply item. The school supplies collected will benefit the Olathe Public Schools Foundation.
This summer, three large barrels of school supplies were donated.
“Olathe is a philanthropic community, so we wanted to show kids the importance of supporting one another,” Asquith said. “We could have charged these kids to come to this event, but why not give them the opportunity to think outside themselves? I think that’s the coolest thing we can teach our youth.”
Plus, she added, it shows them that every type of donation is important.
“Some kids brought a stack of notecards and others brought three backpacks filled with supplies,” she said. “It’s just a matter of giving what you can, no matter how small or how big.”
At the Teen Bash, it was clear the kids were getting the message.
“I brought a lot of school supplies because I want to help other kids fit in and get a good education,” said Claire Yi, a sixth-grader at Indian Trail Middle School.
The donations were a gesture that touched the heart of Cindy Vonfeldt, the foundation’s executive director. Every year, the foundation stocks around 1,600 backpacks for pre-kindergarten to high school students in the Olathe district.
“Students are helping students and that is incredibly special,” she said. “They’re helping Olathe’s most vulnerable students have the best opportunity to learn. We’re extremely grateful of their generosity and to the parks and rec department for making us its beneficiary.”
The parents are thankful for the Teen Bash as well.
“It’s safe here, which is a big deal, because it’s not that often you feel comfortable leaving your kid somewhere and coming back for them,” said Bill Snyder, an Olathe dad who brought his daughter to the event. “There’s city staff here keeping a good eye out, but for the most part, they’re just letting the kids do their own thing. The kids get to be themselves.”
Fellow parent Jennifer Borgelt agrees. She stuck around at the event to mingle with other parents.
“My daughter has been running into a lot of familiar faces she hasn’t seen all summer,” she said. “It’s nice to see her smiling and having a good time.”
As for the kids, they’re just excited to have an excuse to celebrate summer, as the first day of school looms around the corner.
“It’s a good deal, I think more kids should come out,” said Anthony Espinoza, a seventh-grader at Prince of Peace Catholic School. “I definitely want to come back next year.”