Fun should be an easy sell, and it was on a hot Saturday afternoon in northeast Omaha.
Organizations put on the fourth and final Play Streets event, a program designed to offer simple, fun outdoor activities in urban neighborhoods.
Lisa Dworak, project manager for Play Streets, said the event reminds people that fitness doesn't need to be hard, that physical activity can come from simply booting a ball or taking a walk.
“We're in competition with so many plugged-in things,” Dworak said. “That's what I call them.”
She referred, of course, to computer and video games, social media and television, among other pastimes.
Jere Miller, 5, and his sister, 4-year-old Mariah, kicked soccer balls about 3 feet into little goals. Jere hopped with glee each time his ball went in the net. Their grandmother, Lesley Dean, beamed. Then she winced when Jere and Mariah engaged in the fun activity of spitting out water.
Dean called it a fine event.
“We need something for these kids to do,” Dean said. “We need a north Omaha Kroc Center like they have on the south side.” The Kroc Center is a large Salvation Army-sponsored fitness and community center in South Omaha.
Play Streets events took place earlier this year at Aksarben Village, South Omaha and downtown Omaha. Those three attracted a total of about 15,000 people. Dworak estimated that 3,000 attended the northeast Omaha Play Streets. Sponsors included Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, the City of Omaha and Live Well Omaha, and Mayor Jean Stothert spoke at the event.
Play Streets covered about a five-block stretch of 24th Street, beginning at Lake Street and going south. Kids climbed a rock wall, spun hula hoops around their waists, shot baskets, rode bicycles, jumped in bounce houses, acquired balloons, skipped rope and made wings out of cardboard.
London Curry, 3, and her brother, 6-year-old Josiah, created paper chef hats at the Live Well Omaha Kids booth.
“Did you ever have a hat like that, London?” their grandmother, Tina Curry, asked. London had not.
Kelly Bouxsein of Live Well Omaha Kids said she wanted to promote the concept of families cooking and eating meals together. That encourages families to eat healthier, converse and strengthen their bond, she said. Studies suggest that preparing and eating meals as families help children do better in school and interact capably, Bouxsein said.
Two young Omahans who volunteered to help at the event were Ravan Charles, a recent Creighton University graduate, and her brother Gregory Boyd III. Gregory, 14, rode a bicycle around and doled out water.
His sister held up a “Welcome” sign on the corner of 24th and Lake.
“It's been really great so far,” she said of the event. “Everything's free.”
Simple and free. They can be fun, too.