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May 21, 2019 10:45 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

A Conversation With Southampton Towns Parks Department Supervisor Kristen Doulos

May 21, 2019 12:04 PM

Summer is a time of fun and relaxation for a lot of people, but it can also be an interesting time for parents, especially those who both work, who are trying to decide how to keep their children engaged and entertained without breaking the bank. For parents looking to solve that conundrum, the programs offered by Southampton Town Parks and Recreation Department have been a godsend for decades. The town offers a wide range of activities and sports camps that are appealing because of a back-to-basics style that emphasizes fun and learning in a simple way. Southampton Town Director of Parks and Recreation Kristen Doulos took time to speak with The Press last week about the summer programs, including the longtime favorites, as well as new programs she is excited about, and why the programs have had an enduring place in the community.

Question: I know I’m not alone in getting a little anxious about what I’m going to do with my kids in the summer, but I always feel a little bit of relief when the parks department brochure arrives in the mail, listing all the summer programs for kids. It’s been a longstanding tradition of providing quality, affordable sports and recreational activities for kids in the summer months out here. Tell me broadly why these programs are so important for the community?

Kristen Doulos: We try to provide high quality programming at attainable pricing. There are other programs out there, but they aren’t realistic for some people. The nice thing is with our recreational programming, we probably bring in around 75 seasonal employees. And a lot of the time they are kids who came through our programs, especially with our sailing, swimming and summer fun programs. It’s a very generational thing. People come back to it year after year. A lot of the kids who participate do tend to be residents. Some programs are for residents only, but we do offer some to non-residents. But the majority of them are for people who live here, so it’s nice they get to utilize it.

Q: Tell me about some of the longest standing programs and why they’ve been so popular.

KD: Swimming is one. We’re surrounded by water, so it’s really important that people learn how to swim. I think the town, for many years, offered the program for free. More recently, we’re offering it for $10 for younger kids, and I think it recently went up to $15. One reason we had to increase the price is because minimum wage is continuing to go up every year, so we have to offset the staffing costs. But I think we really were able to have very little impact on jacking the prices up. Even our summer fun programs went up, but they’re still only $75. Those are great for the kids, and it’s great for the parents to know their kids are safe and having fun.

There’s also the baseball camp with Rob Nelson. That is always filled up. Kids who’ve been in it always want to come back and work with Rob, and now there’s a lot of people who have their own children of the age to go to camp who went to the camp themselves. You get a lot of that in general, with people saying, ‘Oh, I went to this camp 20 years ago.’ It’s really fun watching Rob in action because he has such a way with kids. He makes it fun. But he’s also a serious baseball player and he has such a great skill set that he teaches the kids. And he doesn’t even live here any more. He lives out in Oregon, but when he comes out in the summer to visit his family, he still does the camps for a couple of weeks.

Our sailing program has been around for a long time, and our windsurfing program is in its 30th year too.

Q: Tell me about some of the newer programs that have been popular.

KD: We’re very excited about offering our Nipper Guard program this year. It’s a precursor to junior lifeguarding. This is the first year we’re implementing it. East Hampton has a similar program, and we really just want to teach kids how to swim and be safe in the water. They start seeing the drills we run with the junior lifeguards, and we love getting kids into the lifeguarding program, and we hope they stick with it. The Southampton Town lifeguards run the program and get to know the kids, and then when they see them at the beach with their families they have a special rapport with them. It will be run out of Long Beach [in Sag Harbor] this summer, and if it goes well, we will try to expand it to west of the canal as well.

Another newer program we have are the Cornell programs we run down at Tiana Bayside. The town partnered with Cornell Cooperative Marine Programs two summers ago, and they’re running a lot of camps based around marine science, and some of them combine art elements as well. In one class, the kids might go down and pick up litter off the beach and up-cycle it into an art project, or go and collect seashells and make something out of that. They learn about how important it is to take care of our water and marine life. That’s a really important message for young kids now, and you see that they come home and teach their parents. It’s good to make them good stewards of the environment.

Q: It seems to me that the parks department programs also do a good job of introducing kids to a wide range of sports and activities that they might otherwise not be exposed to. I’m thinking of sports like sailing, in particular. Tell me a bit about that.

KD: Sailing is a stereotypically wealthy sport, but I always say to my husband that I wish I had done sailing when I was a kid. I look forward to putting my own son in sailing when he’s old enough. Even if he doesn’t like it, it’s just a cool experience to have. We have the tennis and golf camps too. Kids are just getting a quality experience, and a chance to enter into a world they maybe wouldn’t have seen.

Q: There is no shortage of camps and other things for kids to be involved in during the summer months, especially out here. What do you think makes these programs unique or special?

KD: Very little has changed over the last 20 years. I think we just stick with the basics and it’s nothing too elite. Once in a while, we pepper in something new and see if it works. But it’s basically, bring a snack, bring a water bottle, have your sneakers on and get going.

Everybody is getting the same experience, too. If you go to Summer Fun, you’re playing kickball and doing other activities. It doesn’t matter if you’re the rich kid in camp or the poor kid—you would never know. It’s just everybody is equal. We don’t really require uniforms. We just keep it simple.

Q: What sort of feedback do you get from parents and kids when it comes to the programs that seem to have the longest standing impression on them and their lives?

KD: Lifeguarding pops into my head because sometimes we’ll get a kid in lifeguarding that maybe has been a troublemaker in school, but then you see this transformation, because there is so much teamwork and dependency between the guards. They push each other and elevate each other, and overcome this feat of passing the test. It’s like a fraternity, because you’re only as strong as the weakest link in lifeguarding. I’ve seen some kids move on and really get their stuff together, and they go off to school and still come back every summer to lifeguard. That’s something I’ve observed with lifeguards. My old boss used to say that lifeguards are a different breed; a lot of them have this independent spirit and tend to do their own things rather than structured activities. So lifeguarding is really transformative for a lot of kids.

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