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McKeesport makes KaBOOM! list of most playful cities in the nation

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 7:22 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
City administrator Matt Gergely and Mayor Michael Cherepko walk through a children's play area in Renziehausen Park on a tour of existing facilities that helped to qualify McKeesport for designation as a 2013 Playful Cities USA through KaBOOM!

McKeesport is among America's most playful places.

The city is one of 217 municipalities from across the nation named on the nonprofit organization KaBOOM!'s 2013 Playful City USA list, released on Tuesday.

KaBOOM!, whose mission is to give children the gift of play, established the Playful City USA program in 2007 to recognize communities where leaders strive to provide recreational opportunities for youth.

The designation makes municipalities eligible for Let's Play grants awarded in the fall in the amounts of $15,000, $20,000 or $30,000 through the Dr Pepper Snapple Group.

“Kids need to play actively every day at home, in school and in their communities, yet play is disappearing,” KaBOOM! founder Darell Hammond said, noting that only one in five children live within walking distance of a playground. “Playful City USA communities like McKeesport are creating innovative programs and initiatives. They deserve recognition because of their efforts to give kids the childhood they deserve and best prepare them for their future.”

Mayor Michael Cherepko said he believes McKeesport made the list because of the whole community's commitment to bringing up youth with positive experiences.

“There's a sense of community involvement here,” Cherepko said. “Our city's motto right now is ‘Working Together for a Better McKeesport,' and our youth is a big part of that. This administration and a long list of organizations in our city are working to provide children with as many encouraging life experiences and learning opportunities as possible.”

From the daily programming in McKeesport Area schools to the after-school activities hosted by human service organizations and churches, the city earned its Playful City USA designation with a tireless commitment to youth.

The city operates a recreation department with director Jim Brown and a board of volunteers who host holiday activities, including an Easter egg hunt, Halloween parade and Salute to Santa parade.

“It's important for kids to have a variety of recreational opportunities,” Brown said. “It keeps them active and off the streets. Having different things to do makes more well-rounded kids.”

Brown listed Renziehausen Park at the top of city assets that appeal to youth in terms of outdoor activity. There is fishing at Lake Emilie, playground equipment, baseball/softball fields, tennis courts and a walking trail. McKeesport invites children from across the Mon Valley to the park each year for the Village for Kids, organized by the Mon River Fleet's youth logic model partners, to kick off its annual International Village celebration.

In recent years, KaBOOM! has constructed a ball field at LaRosa Boys & Girls Club and built Riverview Playground in the city's Seventh Ward.

City administrator Matt Gergely said the grant opportunities associated with Playful City USA are priceless in terms of positive outcomes, as evidenced by the KaBOOM! projects that already have proven successful.

“This designation is a key factor in our eligibility to secure monies to fund future projects that will improve our recreational activities in the city,” Gergely said. “Without being named one of KaBOOM!'s playful cities, those opportunities wouldn't be possible.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or