A Merry Production, “A Miracle on 34th Street”

Westerville Parks and Recreation Civic Theatre’s first holiday production is coming to life December 11, 12 and 13 at Westerville South High School. The classic story of “A Miracle on 34th Street,” will be performed in a radiocast format.

“After a great run with ‘Seussical’ this summer, we started looking for a special holiday show to bring to the Westerville community,” said Derrick McPeak, Westerville Parks and Recreation Program Leader. “When the script for this radiocast came our way, we knew we could have a lot of fun with this type of production.”

You may be wondering what a classic radiocast entails, so here’s a preview of what to expect.

The production is set in a fictional 1940’s Westerville radio station as actors re-enact a holiday tale during a live radio show.


“As soon as you take your seat in the theater, you become part of the live studio audience for this radio broadcast,” said McPeak. “The nine actors enter the stage as if coming into work for the day. From then on, you will see these ‘players’ tell a ‘A Miracle on 34th Street’ through voice work and sound effects.”

Many of the actors play several different characters that are completely unique.

“I have been directing shows for many years and I love to act too, but had not found the right opportunity perform in a while. When I learned about this script and the ability to play multiple characters in one setting within seconds of each other, I had to audition,” said Cast Member Luke Bovenizer.

Actress Debbie Schindehette was drawn to the radiocast style as well.

“It has been a fun challenge developing the characters, and there has been a lot creative freedom during this process. I’ve been playing around with accents while raising and lowering my voice to make sure each role is distinct,” she said.

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Although you will not see every piece of scenery or costume that is mentioned, you will hear everything. Patrons will see a foley artist create sounds to make the story come alive audibly.

“From car horns to footsteps, our foley artist, Tiffany Sisson, does small reenactments of these motions rather than using a sound board. She really is our 10th actor,” said McPeak. “The sounds she produces make this show full-bodied whether you watch in the theater or if you were to actually listen over the radio. You should be able to close your eyes the entire time and know exactly what is going on.”

But that doesn’t mean there will be a lack of visual entertainment.

“The actors never leave the stage expect during intermission. They get to improv in their ‘down time’ during the work day in the background. So the actors may seem relaxed reading a magazine, but they have to stay focused and stay in character for an hour straight,” he said.

This means every show will be a little different and even interactive.

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“We want you to laugh, cry and cheer as you would at a live talk show. The entire experience is meant to be engaging, and the cast gets to play off the crowd’s energy each performance. There will even be an applause sign that will light up for the audience to clap.”

And in the words of Kris Kringle, or at least Michael Dwyer who plays him, this is a performance you won’t want to miss. “This production combines the nostalgia of a story we know and love with a spin. It is sure to get you and your family in the holiday spirit.”

Tickets for “A Miracle on 34th Street” are still available, and can be purchased in advance at the Westerville Community Center for $10. For more information, please call 614-901-6500 or visit www.westerville.org/art.

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Creative Arts

More than Puppy Playtime

On a sunny night after work, you’ll find Westerville residents and visitors walking their dogs up the hill on Park Meadow Road to the Brooksedge Bark Park. Wagging tails and all, excitement emanates from the dogs as they approach the gate. And if you look closely, the dogs aren’t the only ones happy to be there; the owners themselves are cracking a smile too.

For 10 years, Brooksedge Bark Park has been home to countless games of fetch, tricks and treats. To many dog park patrons, the park has become much more than just a place for their canine companions to run off some extra energy.

“There is this natural community at the dog park. It is great to see familiar faces and dogs here everyday. It is not only the dogs developing friendships, we are to,” said Diedra Meysembourg.

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Diedra Meysembourg teaching her dog Savannah tricks

Meysembourg moved to central Ohio a few months ago from Georgia with her Labrador puppy, Savannah. “Living in an apartment, I knew I needed to find a space for Savannah to exercise,” she said. “I found the Brooksedge Bark Park and never felt the need to go anywhere else.”

Savannah’s favorite playmate is two-year-old Charlie, a Great Pyrenees. Both Meysembourg and Alex Weinberg, Charlie’s owner, agree that this type of socialization is important for the dogs.

“A big part of having a dog is socialization; and the dog park gives them that opportunity. It teaches dogs how to be together and it helps them learn better behaviors. It also gives your pet the chance to feel comfortable around other people and even kids,” said Weinberg.

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Alex Weinberg playing with his dog Charlie

So while the dogs wrestle, Weinberg and Meysembourg get to share laughs, stories and training tips.

Weinberg says, “It is nice to have others like Diedra around who care about their dog and my dog. It really is a supportive environment. Just recently, I was able to find a place to board Charlie by talking with people here.”

Late this summer, Mosaic Artist Vicki Murphy experienced this welcoming community firsthand as well. She was commissioned by the Westerville Parks Foundation to design and install a mosaic near the entryway of the bark park.

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Artist Vicky Murphy putting the finishing touches on the new mosaic

“I received so many encouraging words and dog kisses throughout the creative process. Before starting my own mosaic business, I was a teacher for many years so I enjoyed being able to talk with everyone especially the kids about the project,” said Murphy. “I hope the new mosaic will stem continued conversations about the park, the people and art itself.”

During one trip to the dog park, the Iyer family learned about the inspiration for the mosaic design and first-grader Gaia even helped put a piece of stained glass on the rock.

“Gaia loves the dog park and now she has had her hand in making it more beautiful. It is another reason this park feels like part of our yard,” said Anusha Iyer, Gaia’s mother.

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Gaia Iyer with her family dog Neo

The family’s strong love of the bark park prompted Anusha’s husband, Santosh Iyer, to create an online social group for other dog parents to connect. Regulars at the dog park use the outlet to coordinate times to meet up, share photos and advice.

The Iyers, Meysembourg and Weinberg all hope to see more people explore the Bark Park and take part in this niche in the canine community.

“If you’ve thought about visiting the dog park, be confident and come check it. There is a very high chance you and your pup are going to have a lot of fun,” said Meysembourg.

As the sun sets and dog park patrons pack up and wave goodbye, there is no doubt this special part of the Parks and Recreation Department is place for both canines and people to enjoy.

To learn more about the Brooksedge Bark Park and its amenities, visit the City website here.

Parks & Facilities

The Great American Campout

Hiking in the woods, stargazing and telling stories around the fire.

What do you remember about camping as a kid?

The memories that many families make together while enjoying nature and camping can last a lifetime.

Your next family adventure could be at the Westerville Parks & Recreation Great American Campout on Friday, September 11 at Heritage Park.

The Stein family participated in this overnight campout last year. It was the first time both seven year-old Alex and four year-old Zach went camping.

“The boys loved it. We already had a tent and thought it was a good way to introduce the kids to camping in a familiar setting,” said Jessica Stein, the boys’ mother.

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That was just what M.J. Smith, Westerville Parks and Recreation Naturalist, had in mind when launching the program.

“When I was a kid, I never got to go camping, and I always wanted to have that experience,” says Smith. “It inspired me to create this opportunity. This is a chance for first-time campers to get out in nature and try sleeping in a tent, all while still being close to home if younger children get uncomfortable.”

The event is a great for experienced campers as well.

“Our lives can get hectic, and even families who love to camp may have a hard time getting away. We supply the food, a space with restrooms and entertainment. Since participants don’t have to travel far or pack as many supplies as a typical camping trip, they can spend quality time with their families without having to worry about every detail,” said Smith.

After setting up tents, the night kicks off with a cookout, and of course, S’mores.

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“Kids get to learn how to safely make a meal over a campfire. There are a lot of children who either get overly excited around fire or scared. We want to avoid little ones swinging flaming marshmallows back and forth, so it is extremely important to go over the basics,” says Smith. “We teach them fire is a tool and just like a tool in your parent’s work box, you don’t use it without permission.”

As dinner wraps up, families can make craft before a night hike begins. Smith says the nature walk is her favorite part of the event.

“We walk the path together without flashlights looking for different kinds of animals and plants. Once everyone’s eyes adjust to the darkness, they realize they can actually see more and become better aware of their surroundings.”

The Stein brothers also enjoyed the night time experience. “It was really neat to see the park after hours; the moon was bright and helped guide our way,” said Stein. “Alex was a little afraid of the dark and held my hand, but he relaxed as we walked around and started using our other senses.”

After the walk, the group is free to play outside and then wind down for bed.

“I distinctly remember kids playing flashlight tag and my husband telling stories inside the tent before going to sleep,” said Stein. “I was surprised. We all slept well. It was quiet and you couldn’t tell we were still in the City.”

She says the whole family can’t wait to do the campout again. “We had a lot of fun. The kids learned new things and we got to unplug and make new memories together.”


And what does young Zach Stein remember best?

“I found my first frog!” he exclaimed.

For more details on the Great American Campout and registration information, visit this link.

Education & Exploration

A Colorful Community Production, “Seussical”

Brilliant colors, bright personalities and beaming performances…the cast and crew of “Seussical” have come together to create an entertaining musical for all ages.

The Westerville Parks and Recreation Civic Theatre production of “Seussical” hits the stage this week at Westerville Central High School. The show runs July 30, 31 and August 1 at 7 p.m. with a final performance on August 2 at 2 p.m.

“This musical takes the stories of Dr. Seuss, including characters and images that we are very familiar with, like the ‘Cat in the Hat’ and ‘the Whos,’ and combines them into a clever show that teaches everyone a lesson about the true meaning of friendship and community,” said Derrick McPeak, Westerville Parks & Recreation Program Leader for “Seussical.”

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In its third year, Westerville Parks and Recreation Civic Theatre is continuing its commitment to providing a high-quality and family-friendly theater outlet for the City.

“Every year, we are growing our theater program and aiming to bring a professional and affordable experience to not only theater patrons, but to those participating in the production,” said McPeak.

After performing with Westerville Parks and Recreation Civic Theatre last year, Westerville resident Char Anderson was thrilled to act again this summer in “Seussical.”

“I’ve been doing local theater for 10 years; and this is best group I have ever worked with. It is absolutely a step up from many other community theater programs,” she said. “The staff is organized and respectful of the actors and their time. The whole team is so talented from the set to the lighting and costumes.”

And the cast and crew itself is embracing the show’s theme of friendship and community.

“I live five minutes from where we rehearse. So not only am I getting the opportunity to fine-tune my craft, but I am meeting new people and making friends with neighbors in Westerville,” said Anderson.

Despite a large cast of more than 100 actors, participants say the comradery that has developed in the past two months is astounding.

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“I went out on a limb and auditioned not knowing anyone else going out for show. Since the first meeting, I’ve felt included. Everyone is supportive and works really well together,” said Cast Member Luke Hassenpflug.

“Seussical” is also bridging generations as a wide-range of ages are involved in the musical. The show’s youngest cast member, six-year-old Claire Munger, is acting alongside fellow cast member and mom, Katey Munger. This mother-daughter duo is just one of a few families performing together this year.

“We have a lot of fun. We get to dance and play at rehearsals, and are constantly singing ‘Seussical’ around the house or in the car. It gives us another way to bond and spend time with one another,” said Munger.

Munger hopes other families can experience the arts together too.

“This theater group is filling a performance arts void in Westerville. It is important for children to see live theater. Now families here don’t have to travel far or break the bank to see a great kid-friendly show. They get to watch friends and colleagues perform, and see how talented their community is.”

Tickets for “Seussical” are still available for purchase at the Westerville Community Center for $10. For more information, visit www.westerville.org/art.

Creative Arts

A Visual Adventure

With so many fun events and programs happening in the Westerville Parks and Recreation Department, there is a lot to see and experience. And we want to give you a first-hand look at all the action. The Department is going on a new visual adventure this summer with a GoPro, a versatile video camera.

We captured some of the highlights at Party at the Creek, an annual Parks and Recreation celebration, and our first video is now up. The event served as the grand opening for the new playground at Alum Creek Park North and was filled with nature activities and entertainment for all ages.

Check out the following video, and tell us your favorite part of this year’s Party at the Creek in the comment section below. We hope you enjoy and stay tuned for more to come!

Parks & Facilities

Bike Safe Westerville

It’s just like riding a bike. But in this case, it actually is riding a bike. With summer-like temperatures, you may have already dusted off your bike and taken it out for a ride around town. And, with more than 29 miles of multi-use trails in Westerville’s Bike and Walkway (B&W) system, there is a lot of ground to explore.

You’re not alone out there on the path. Westerville’s B&W is utilized by thousands of residents and visitors each week. As an official Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, many path users are not only walkers and runners, but biking families and competitive cyclists alike.

With so many people taking advantage of the recreational path system, it’s important that we safely share this public amenity. That’s why the Westerville Parks and Recreation Department and the Division of Police teamed up to create a mini video series called “Bike Safe Westerville.” These short videos highlight the importance of preventative bike maintenance, general safety practices and rules to follow while riding on the roadway or path.

“Safety on the paths is a top priority for the City, and the development of this video series is targeted on safety awareness and education to our residents and path users,” said Randy Auler, Director of Westerville Parks and Recreation. “As a community, we treasure our recreational path system, and it’s one accessible way to embrace a healthy active lifestyle.”

Before heading out for your next biking adventure, or even a walk with the dog on the pathway, check out the videos below. One film is targeted toward kids, depicting a fun and friendly approach to general bike safety. The second provides an in-depth tutorial on how cyclists should ride on paths, streets and alongside vehicular traffic.

May is also National Bike Month. To celebrate, the City of Westerville is hosting the first-ever Bike Safe Westerville workshop at Everal Barn at Heritage Park, 60 N. Cleveland Avenue, on May 16 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Attendees will have the opportunity to take what they have learned from the videos and apply it to an interactive bike course at Heritage Park. Children are encouraged to bring their bikes and helmets to participate in hands-on bike stations and a group ride along the path. Local cycling groups are set to teach various skills challenges and conduct a gear and bike inspection. The Westerville Division of Police will be available as well to help register bikes and lead the kids on the group ride. Once the course is completed, the first 200 kids will receive souvenirs. All participants can enter to win a grand prize raffle.

You’re invited to take part in this free event. Visit www.westerville.org/bike to learn more about the upcoming workshop and the City’s B&W system. We encourage you to share the Bike Safe Westerville videos with family and friends too.

Bike Safe Westerville!

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Education & Exploration

Westerville Senior Olympics Moving Full Speed Ahead

In his third year planning the Ohio Senior Games, Westerville Senior Center Program Supervisor Chris Shirring says, “It is all the stories, moments and encounters that make this event truly special for so many spectators, participants and myself.”

And successful. For the first time this summer, the Westerville Parks and Recreation Department is hosting the Ohio Senior Olympics State Games for the entire state of Ohio. This will nearly triple the attendance in years past bringing in an estimated 600 athletes.

The Ohio Senior Olympics State Games give adults ages 50 “or better” the opportunity to compete in a variety of athletic and artistic events during a three-week period starting Saturday, June 6.

“There is something for everyone,” says Shirring. “If you like a little friendly rivalry, the Games give you a chance to get on the track or stage again and even try something new.”

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John Sherman Receiving an Award from Chris Shirring in 2014 Central Ohio Senior Games

That’s a driving force behind 84-year-old John Sherman’s consistent participation in the Senior Games.

“I was quickly drawn to the sense of community that comes from the tournament. I’ve been participating in the Senior Games on and off since 1990, depending on whether it was available. Every time, I’ve had a lot of fun playing and visiting with old and new friends,” said Sherman.

Sherman has tried his hand at nearly every sport over the years, from track and field to cycling and volleyball. His strongest sports have always been table tennis and pickleball.

“I like the paddle games where I can smack the ball,” he says laughing. “I thrive on the competition; it makes me better.”

In 1999, with his family there supporting him, Sherman took home the gold medal in table tennis at the National Senior Games in Orlando, Florida.

“I don’t have to win to enjoy the games. Don’t get me wrong, winning does help, but my family is a powerful motivator too.”

And that’s apparent as Sherman’s face lights up talking about his loved ones.

“I have four wonderful children and a wife who I’ve been married to for more than 50 years. I want to spend as much quality time with them as I can. I’ve had some heart issues in past, but for the most part, I’m pretty healthy,” he said.

DSCF5167  brightenedThe veteran athlete attributes his good bill of health to his training regimen and discipline as a former Columbus firefighter.

“My Fire Chief wanted his unit to be in good shape. We had to do a half hour workout each day, and that led me to feel better and in turn exercise more. When I retired, I wanted to stay strong and fit. I still aim to do 75 minutes of physical activity three times a week.”

As Sherman prepares for the 2015 Senior Games, so is one of this year’s oldest competitors, 93-year-old Virginia Sterkel. She is getting ready for several matches with the help of her grandson and trainer, Ryan Jaroncyk.

“When Grandma turned 90, I knew she needed a change, something to get her moving,” said Jaroncyk. “I did a Google search and found the Senior Games. She can be stubborn, but she trusts me. I asked if she was willing to give it a go and to my surprise she said let’s try it.”

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Virgina Sterkel with her grandson Ryan Jaroncyk at the 2014 Central Ohio Senior Games

Since then, Virginia not only won the gold in corn hole, but the hearts of many fans. Last year, family and friends from her retirement village came out in “Team Sterkel” T-shirts to root her on.

“It take guts to compete. My grandma is a realistic representation of people that age. She is making the conscious decision to still to be active whether she is feeling up to it or not,” said Jaroncyk.

The time they have spent training together has not only strengthened Sterkel, but their relationship as well.

“It’s alright when he is nice. But he knows to be nice,” jokes Sterkel. “He is a good teacher, I don’t like to lose and can get pretty competitive during the Games.”

Jaroncyk says it’s another way to bond and make memories. “She is naturally a very active person. During the Games, she is really happy and gets a thrill out of beating younger folks. That tenacity has moved others we know to sign up for the senior games. And I’ll be entering as soon as I turn 50.”

Both Sterkel and Sherman are grateful to have the Senior Games held so close to home in Westerville the past few years. It’s the kind of feedback Westerville Senior Games organizer Shirring loves to hear.

“It been exciting to see how the Games have grown in Westerville in such a short time. We coordinate 24 events over the course of 20 days. Those contests are further separated by age range and gender into heats. And Westerville is the only location in Ohio to offer an arts portion, including numerous categories from pottery to dance,” said Shirring.

TT & F 2014 (45)he Games in Westerville have a bright future ahead. In 2016, the Westerville site will act as the state qualifier for the National Senior Games drawing more than 1,400 players to the area.

“It is a powerful opportunity to show off our facilities and the City to people that aren’t from here. And at the end of the day, it is worth all the planning when you see the smiles, inspiring performances and overall positive attitudes that surround the games each year, ” says Shirring.

The Ohio Senior Olympics State Games Opening Ceremony is set for June 6 at 12 p.m. 1972 Swimming Olympic Gold Medalist Jennifer Kemp will be kicking off the festivities. Those interested in competing can register until May 22. The public is also invited to come watch the free events throughout the month .

For registration details and general information about the Games presented by Senior Star at Dublin Retirement Village and Dublin Living and Memory Support, visit www.westerville.org/seniorgames.

Healthy Active Lifestyle

Arbor Day Art Contest Teaches Students Trees are Terrific

“Trees are terrific…from every angle.”

The theme of this year’s annual Arbor Day art contest is aiming to teach local kids just that.

Each April, the Westerville Parks and Recreation Department, in partnership with the Westerville Shade Tree Commission, hosts an art contest to educate children on the importance of trees.

“Trees are such an integral part of the City of Westerville. Our community cherishes our green spaces and we want that same love of the natural world to carry on for the next generation,” said Matt Ulrey, Westerville Parks and Recreation Urban Forest Manager.

Westerville has been named Tree City USA for the 39th year, a prestigious recognition the City values.

“Westerville is one of only three cities in Ohio, and one of 16 places in the country, to consecutively receive this honor since its inception,” Ulrey said. “This truly shows how essential continued tree planting, maintenance and education is to us.”

Area schools have been participating in the Arbor Day poster contest for more than 20 years. Mrs. Norling, a fifth grade teacher at Hanby Magnet Elementary, encourages her students to take part each spring to capitalize on the learning opportunity.

“This year, as the students completed their Arbor Day artwork, we discussed the meaning behind the posters and what this special day means for us as citizens,” said Mrs. Norling. “We also compared our natural environment to the environments of other places in the world that do not have the luxury of many trees.”

Jaden Mapes, right, with her sister, Antonia, at the 2014 Arbor Day Poster Contest Award Ceremony at Everal Barn.

Jaden Mapes, right, with her sister, Antonia, at the 2014 Arbor Day Poster Contest Award Ceremony at Everal Barn.

In 2014, one third-grade winner from Hanby was Jaden Mapes.

“I was really surprised I won, but was excited. My sister encouraged me to participate because I like to draw and she thinks I’m a good artist,” she said.

Jaden’s sister was at the annual awards ceremony at Everal Barn to support her last year. Their father, Jerry Mapes, says both his girls have always been creative.

“I want the girls to be well-rounded. It is important for them to be outside, experience new challenges and be artistic. This contest is the perfect example of a positive outlet for them to do exactly that,” said Mapes.

Jaden, along with any other third, fourth or fifth grader living in the City or attending Westerville City Schools, has the chance to show off their imagination once again. Students can now submit a poster or a photograph, which is a new addition to the contest.

“We typically see photos from adults, but not children. In this day and age, with such easy access to cameras, it will be neat to see this kind of perspective from a child’s eyes,” said Ulrey.

As someone who is passionate about tree care, Ulrey enjoys being one of the judges for this competition.

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Jaden Mapes stands with her 2014 winning poster above.

“Kids in Westerville come up with some really cool ideas,” he said. “Last year, many of the posters reflected the ‘Minecraft’ craze and the designs were very blocky. I’m excited to see what they create this time and how it relates to the specific tree topic.”

The deadline to enter the contest is Monday, April 20. The grand prize winner will have a tree planted in his or her name at school or a favorite city park if home-schooled.

And, even if you don’t fall into the contest age range, there are many ways to celebrate this coming Arbor Day.

“The benefits of trees are endless. I encourage you to plant a tree is possible or spend some time in a park on Friday, April 24. We will have free seedlings at the Community Center on Arbor Day for people to pick up and take home,” said Ulrey.

For complete details on the 2015 Arbor Day Art Contest, follow this link.



Creative Arts

A Hoppin’ Good Cause

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2014 Westerville Bunny Hop 5K Participants

Bunny ears, shiny medals and spring colors galore. It is no wonder the Westerville Bunny Hop 5K is one of the most vibrant races in town this time of year.

Cheery hues are not the only reason this races stands out. The motivation for many to run, walk or skip more than three miles on Saturday, April 4 is the Westerville Parks Foundation.

The Westerville Parks Foundation was founded in 2000 as a non-profit organization to assist the Parks and Recreation Department in funding projects and improvements outside the annual city operating budget.

“The Parks Foundation is a huge asset to the Parks and Recreation Department. There are elements in the community that you may come across every day that wouldn’t exist without it,” said Westerville Parks and Recreation Director Randy Auler. “The Foundation has helped bring the Train Depot, Mural on the Path and various public art installations to life in the City.”

And that is just skimming the surface of the Parks Foundation’s impact. Scholarships are awarded each year to numerous residents-in-need to supplement the cost of classes, passes or daily admissions to the Westerville Community Center.

“These scholarships are a life changer for many people. In many cases, an individual or family would not be able to participate in the wonderful programs the Community Center offers without a little extra help,” said Lisa Kluchurosky, Chair of the Westerville Parks Foundation. “Scholarship recipients get the chance to connect socially and improve their physical and mental health.”

Scholarship recipients say the same thing. Although she wishes to remain anonymous, one older adult shared her story of receiving a Foundation grant with us. She applied for aid two years ago after experiencing a drop in income.

“My doctor said I needed to walk, but I needed to do it safely. I live on a brick street in Westerville with no sidewalks,” she explained. “I’m in my seventies and use a cane, so if I fell on the bricks, it would take several strong men to lift me up off the ground.”

After accepting the scholarship, she started utilizing the Senior Center bus as transportation to the Community Center. And her walking around the track began.

“I try to go four times a week when possible and my goal is a mile. I am the slowest walker out there, and some days when I’m not feeling well I can only get a few laps in. But that is okay; something is better than nothing,” she said.

The positive environment at the facility keeps her coming back day after day.

“From the staff to fellow track users, they’ll watch me and say keep it up, you are doing a great job. That gives me more motivation to continue.”

Those encouraging words have turned into many friendships over time.

“One gentleman and his wife are there often. He speaks French and so do I. Now he brings me his French magazines when he is done reading them. Another lady loves to quilt and that is something we share when we catch up. So many people are friendly and willing to open up,” she chimed.

She has also seen an improvement in her health.

“My doctors have been thrilled with my progress. My blood pressure has gone down and my muscles are looser. Just a few weeks ago, my sisters came to town. I had not been going to the Community Center for a bit because I was afraid of falling on the ice and my left knee started hurting. They pushed me to starting walking again; and I went to the track following their visit and that knee improved. I just needed to get moving and my body responded.”

Although some days may be harder than others, she values the chance to get moving.

“The opportunity to use the track means the world to me. I thoroughly enjoy the Community Center. All the other benefits are just icing on the cake,” she said.

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Participants make their way to the start line at the 2014 Westerville Bunny Hop 5K

One of the largest fundraisers to provide scholarship opportunities to residents like this is the Bunny Hop 5K. Now in its fifth year, the Bunny Hop has truly become a community event.

“The 5K has something for everyone, from families to kids and elite runners,” said Kluchurosky. “We try to make it fun yet still competitive. When volunteering at the event last year, I was struck by how energetic and uplifting the atmosphere was. It was a little chilly that morning, but people were genuinely happy to be there and having a good time.”

“This race really goes to the heart of what parks and recreation is all about. It actively brings the community together in a friendly environment to enjoy one of our parks and the trails for a good cause,” said Auler.

To register for the upcoming Westerville Parks Foundation Bunny Hop 5K at Alum Creek Park North next Saturday, visit https://premierraces.com/westervillebunnyhop5k.


Parks & Facilities

Discover the Benefits of Outdoor Exploration

“Look what we found, M.J.! What kind of animal is it?”

Josie and Vera Johnson, vibrant seven year-old twins, stumbled upon tracks left in the snow while playing at Heritage Park just last week.

“Those are deer tracks,” explained M.J. Smith, Westerville Parks and Recreation staff naturalist, who specializes in outdoor and wildlife programming. 

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Both Josie and Vera are veteran participants in Parks and Recreation’s Outdoor Explorers class that M.J. teaches every quarter. The duo gets a kick out of testing M.J.’s knowledge.

“It is so cool when we see something. We just ask M.J. and she tells us what it is,” said Josie Johnson. 

Outdoor Explorers is one of three nature courses in a specific “Outdoor” series aimed at children of different ages. Outdoor Discoverers and Outdoor Adventurers, along with Outdoor Explorers, expose kids to quality time in the parks while learning about various animals and plants that inhabit the region.

A short walk down the path reveals the sound of a bird. M.J. and the girls stop to find a woodpecker high in the trees.

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“There are opportunities all around us in nature to learn,” said Smith. “Part of the program is structured, but it is also vital that kids have the opportunity to ask questions, search, and play freely. If we didn’t take the time to pause and use the binoculars to spot the Red Bellied Woodpecker, we may have never seen the beautiful color of that particular bird.” 

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These tidbits of information from the classes are sticking with the students. 

“When children can touch, hear and see the things we are talking about, it really helps them retain information,” said Smith. “There are four classes within each course and by the last day, the kids are pointing out types of flowers or in this instance, Josie was able to identify a poison ivy vine right away and Vera found flower buds from a red maple tree.”

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This dedicated time to experience the natural world provides more benefits than just education. Studies show spending time outdoors can improve social skills, academic performance, stress levels and creativity to name a few.

“We all have access to this wonderful tool that can help not only improve our well-being, but improve the quality of life for our youth. I see it in the kids on a weekly basis, their energy levels and excitement while soaking in green space in undeniable,” said Smith.

Josie and Vera’s Mom, Vanessa, says all these combined benefits are why she continues to enroll her girls in the course.

“Every time Josie and Vera take this class, they get something new out of it,” said Johnson. They are becoming more attuned to nature, making new friends and developing a great relationship with an adult mentor.”

As Josie and Vera stomp in rain puddles giggling, it is apparent that the girls want to engage in this type of activity too. 

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“We love the class! It is fun!” tells Vera.

According to the tree buds M.J. discovered with the Josie and Vera, spring is on its way and so is the next session of outdoors classes in May. For class details and registration information on Outdoor Discoverers, Explorers and Adventurers, visit the Westerville website at this link.

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Education & Exploration

Employee Wellness Scores Big with Healthiest Employer Nomination

What is your definition of a healthy lifestyle?

You don’t have to be bodybuilder or a vegetarian to make choices each day that promote a healthy active lifestyle, says City of Westerville Wellness Committee Chair Mike Herron.

“Health is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone is at a different level,” said Herron. “For one person the decision to quit smoking or taking a 30-minute walk everyday could be a huge step in their journey toward better health.”

Herron is also Fitness Manager for the Westerville Parks and Recreation Department. He explained these types of healthy actions are just what the City of Westerville hopes to promote not only to residents, but employees as well.

“We provide numerous opportunities for the public to take advantage of Parks and Recreation facilities, parks and wellness programs. It is vital this focus is carried throughout the entire organization, starting with our own City employees.”

In 2012, the City assembled a Wellness Committee comprised of a representative from each of the 10 departments. Their mission: to develop stronger internal health initiatives centered on physical, mental, financial, medical and occupational wellness.

“Once a year, we do free health screenings for employees. These collective test results, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, helped us understand we needed to better engage our employees in more preventative opportunities,” said Ann Lund, City of Westerville Human Resources Manager.

2014 City of Westerville Employee Health Fair

2014 City of Westerville Employee Health Fair

Through the work of the committee, workshops ranging from cancer prevention to office ergonomics and even financial planning are exposing employees to well-rounded approaches to wellness.

“Health is not just about being fit or eating right,” said Herron. “We strive to provide resources on a variety of health topics. For example, if you are stressed about your finances then that stress carries with you to work and continues to weigh on your overall state.”

Beyond frequent wellness workshops, the City organizes a fitness class for employees at the Community Center and the Electric Division.

“About a year and a half ago, we started doing high-intensity training in the electric building twice a week, and I have tried to make every class possible since,” said Dan Amato, Engineering Technician.

During that time period, Amato has seen measurable improvement in his overall health by cleaning up his diet in addition to exercising with coworkers.

“For the first time that I can remember, my cholesterol and BMI are within the good range and I have lost 14 pounds,” he said.

The positive changes Amato has experienced are more than numbers on a chart.

“These classes set the pace for my day and wake me up. I have more energy to power through that afternoon slump; and I am sleeping more soundly. Overall, I am more focused and am maintaining higher quality work. I feel great and people notice it,” he said.

Amato isn’t the only one seeing results from the wellness initiatives. The effects of his transformation have inspired others around him.

“One of my coworkers is consistently working out at these classes with me. He is trying to bring down his high blood pressure and slowly but surely he is making progress,” said Amato. “And my daughter is now living and breathing fitness too.”

This snowball effect is just what the City was striving for.

“We value our employee’s health and happiness, so it is important that we invest in them now. It benefits the employee, their families and the City to have a better quality of life, be able to get off unnecessary medications, be more productive and even take less sick days,” said Lund.

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2015 Winter Olympics Hockey Skills Shootout

The City aims to keep wellness activities mostly fun and games. For three years, the City of Westerville has hosted Summer and Winter Olympic Games among the departments, who are organized and grouped into “Nations.”

“We have different competitions throughout the week that promote team building and appeal to people of all fitness levels. This winter, our challenges included a hockey skills shootout, HORSE basketball and an aquatic obstacle course to name a few,” says Herron.

The Winter Games just wrapped up and “Nation Electric, Water & Service” took home the traveling trophy this time.

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Nation Electric, Water & Service Win 2015 Employee Winter Olympics

“Every time I participate in the Olympics, it cultivates a really good sense of comradery with coworkers. We laugh, joke around, cheer each other on and even get some exercise. How many work environments truly try to build up their employees like this?” said Electric Utility Finance Manager Chris Monacelli.

All these wellness efforts are now being recognized. The City of Westerville was recently nominated by Columbus Business First as one of the 2015 Healthiest Employers of Central Ohio for the first time. The honor was officially announced at the Healthiest Employers Awards Program and Wellness Expo on Tuesday, March 10 at COSI.

“We know that our efforts have been making a difference in the lives of our employees, but it is wonderful to get that validation from an outside party that we are on the right track in comparison to other businesses and municipalities in the region. We’re very excited to see how our wellness initiatives will continue to positively impact Westerville,” said Lund.


Healthy Active Lifestyle Uncategorized

Let’s Roll

It is described by many as a historic sport for modern times. But the Westerville Parks and Recreation Department sees log rolling as a competitive way to have a lot of fun too. This spring, the department is offering a new course on log rolling.

You may be asking: “What in the world is log rolling?” 

Log rolling has a history that dates back more than 100 years. As America was growing, the need for lumber grew as well. Lumberjacks transported logs down local waterways and frequently jumped from log to log on the rivers to keep wood moving downstream. The challenge and skill developed from rolling logs quickly turned into a sport outside the work day.

The popular sport in Wisconsin and Minnesota has transformed in recent years to become more accessible and user-friendly. At one point, 500-pound cedar logs were smoothed out and carpeted to be gentler on feet. However, this didn’t solve the issue of transporting a very heavy log. A synthetic log was later developed by the company, Key Log Rolling. This new type of log weighs only 65 pounds before it is put into water, making it much more mobile.

With the addition of a key log, the Westerville Parks and Recreation Department is one of the first to offer log-rolling courses in central Ohio. 

The man behind this new class is Parks and Recreation Program Supervisor Darcy Baxter. 

“We’re always looking to bring new adventure programs to the Community Center,” said Baxter. “I was at the Ohio State Fair last year, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources had this cool log-rolling exhibit. I had never seen the sport in person before, and a light bulb went off…our camp kids would love this.” 

And so far the Parks and Recreation employees training on the log are loving it as well. 

“You might be a little nervous the first time you get on the log, but you have to be able to laugh at yourself,” said Parks and Recreation Facilities Supervisor J.R. Fourqurean. “I fell off within two seconds of jumping on the first time. Now that we are all getting better, we are battling it out on our lunch breaks to see who is the best lumberjack. It really brings out the competitor in you in the best way possible.” 

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Beyond the fun factor, log rolling proves to be a well-rounded workout, improving balance, coordination, endurance and foot speed. 

“Since you are having a good time, the physical fitness aspect of log rolling sneaks up; and you end up getting a really good workout. Your legs are constantly moving while your core is stabilizing the rest of your body,” explained Baxter. 

Log rolling also strengthens mental focus and concentration. 

“You might think you just jump on the log and go. But, just like any other sport, log rolling takes specific techniques and strategies to be successful,” said Baxter. “For example, unlike a balance beam, you don’t look down at your feet and instead focus on the opposite end of the log. 

The four-week course starting April 12 is intended to teach beginners the basics, including safety, stance, timed trials and even some matches to try to knock other class participants off the log. To make it easier to learn, the log comes with different “training wheels,” which slow the log down so anyone can give it a spin.

Earlier this winter, ABC-6 Good Day Columbus Meteorologist Dana Turtle escaped the cold and tested his log-rolling skills at the Westerville Community Center pool. Check out his experience in this video.

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The log roll will be utilized at camps, community events and Highlands Parks Aquatic Center in the future. You’ll even get the chance to see the log roll in action at Party at the Creek on May 28.

For more information on log-rolling classes or to register beginning March 6, click here.



Healthy Active Lifestyle

And the Winner is…

Thanks to all who participated in the Winter Wonders in Westerville Instagram Contest. Congratulations to Mary Pat Turner who took first place with her winter photo taken at Heritage Park!

Photo by Mary Pat Turner

Photo by Mary Pat Turner
Heritage Park

Check out some of the other top images from the contest below. We encourage you to continue to tag us in your winter photos using #westervillewinterwonders. And be sure to stay tuned for our next Parks and Recreation social media contest.

Photo by Terrence N. Banbury Westerville B&W Pedestrian Bridge at sunrise

Photo by Terrence N. Banbury
Westerville B&W Pedestrian Bridge at sunrise

Photo by Keiko Kume

Photo by Keiko Kume

Photo by  Anita Sherrard  Millstone Creek Park

Photo by Anita Sherrard
Millstone Creek Park

Photo by Brenda Turner Everal Barn and Homestead

Photo by Brenda Turner
Everal Barn and Homestead

Photo by Allison Graham

Photo by Allison Graham

Photo by Julianne Ward

Photo by Julianne Ward

Photo by  Diana Lynn Noble Trigg

Photo by Diana Lynn Noble Trigg

Photo by  Amy Welty

Photo by Amy Welty

Photo by Roger Howard Westerville City Hall

Photo by Roger Howard
Westerville City Hall


Creative Arts

Planting the Seed

Garden Club. You might imagine little old ladies with white gloves drinking tea and talking about herbs. But when it comes to the Westerville Garden Club, that image is far from reality, says club member, Barb Shepard.

“We are an active diverse group. Young and old; men and women. We enjoy planting and gardening, but community education is huge to us,” said Shepard.

Members from the Garden Club regularly teach a free class at the Westerville Community Center.

“It is a great partnership between Westerville Parks and Recreation and the Garden Club. We love being able to share knowledge and encourage others. It doesn’t matter if you live in an apartment or don’t have much of a green thumb, there are plenty of ways you can engage in gardening,” she said.

Many of the classes focus on being environmentally-friendly. Most recently, Michele White and Shepard presented a how-to workshop on making your own health and home products.

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“You may think gardening is a completely green activity, but it is important to be aware of our environmental impacts, pesticides and indoor pollutants,” said Shepard. “We strive to be green in the broadest sense possible.”

As the two chit-chatted while setting up, it is apparent Garden Club blossomed a lasting friendship between them.

“About six years ago, I brought my mom to a Garden Club presentation at the Community Center and Barb was teaching. I thought it would be a good opportunity for my mom to get involved and stay busy, and it turns out I fell in love with the organization,” said White.

That sense of community and friendship is carried throughout the club.

“There is just something about a down-to-earth person that likes to dig in the dirt. We get to serve with people who are so real and passionate,” said Shepard.

This month, a full room of participants came out to learn about toxicity in typical household cleaners and how to make natural products instead.

“I encourage people to consider making homemade cleaners. They are quick and easy to mix together, more affordable and reduce the amount of toxins in your home, body and the environment,” said White.

One recipe they shared is for dishwasher detergent. Directions are below:


Dishes, silverware and glassware come out shiny and clean thanks to this simple three-ingredient powder containing antibacterial grapefruit essential oil.

Prep: 4 min.
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Yield: 32 oz. (Enough for 32 loads)

–Rubber gloves
–Measuring cup
–Mixing bowl
–32-oz. plastic container with lid

–2 cups washing soda (Similar to baking soda, but slightly stronger and can’t be ingested)
–2 cups borax
–25 drops grapefruit essential oil

–Put on gloves.
–Add washing soda, borax and oil to bowl. Stir with your hands to mix and eliminate clumps.
–Transfer powder to plastic container.
–Use 2 Tbsp. detergent per wash.
–You also can add 1 tsp. vinegar, if desired, to the rinse cycle to prevent spots on silverware and glasses.

There are two Westerville Garden Club classes coming up at the Westerville Community Center. Come learn how to introduce mason bees into your garden and create colorful landscaping all season long. To get signed up for these free workshops, click here.

And for more information on the Westeville Garden Club, visit their website at www.westervillegardenclub.com


Education & Exploration

One Step at a Time

It is that time of year again. The time when you promise yourself you will get back on the wagon: start eating right, exercising more and refocus your priorities.

But what keeps you from breaking those resolutions? So many people start the new year strong, then fade out of a good routine.

This vicious cycle was one with which Westerville resident Bill Streetman was more than familiar. In 2010, he weighed 404 pounds.

106a[1]“I was at the end of my rope,” said Bill. “I felt like I had tried everything to lose weight. I couldn’t ride a bike anymore, sit comfortably on an airplane or in a booth at a restaurant, so I would make up excuses of why I couldn’t do something all because of my size.”

While temporarily living in Michigan, Bill elected to have gastric bypass surgery.

“I was working as a project manager, and the project I failed at was myself. Something drastic had to change; and I decided surgery was the best tool for me to do that,” he said.

From the start, Bill approached his weight loss journey methodically. Exactly one year after gastric bypass surgery in October 2011, Bill was half his size, down to 202 pounds.

DSCF9148 edited for blog“Before I even underwent surgery, I made a pre-surgery and a post-surgery diet and exercise plan. It didn’t go perfectly, but I learned that I had to be honest with myself and take control of my daily routine.”

And that first year was not without many more transitions.

“It was more than diet and exercise. From your relationships with family and friends to work, you can’t lose that much weight and not have it affect every part of your life,” said Bill.

A little more than a year after the operation, he sold his business in Michigan and moved back to Westerville.

“I couldn’t work 120 hours a week anymore. I had to make myself a priority in order to serve my family and community. I loved Westerville and wanted to come back home.”

Once settling back into the area, Bill knew his next step was to get plugged back in at the  Westerville Community Center.

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“I just had to start. I signed up for aerobics classes and ended up sitting through half the work out in the beginning. But it was a snowball effect. Once you get moving, you gain more endurance and confidence, and before you know it you are taking classes several times a week.”

The friendship, accountability and flexibility that come from group fitness classes have kept Bill motivated.

“It is one thing to lose the weight, but it is another thing to maintain. This is not your typical gym, there are so many options to keep your workouts fresh. The people who go to the Community Center are fantastic and encouraging. And no one is there to judge, we want to see each other be successful.”

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And Bill took to one fitness instructor in particular.

“You know a great instructor when you work very hard in a class but it doesn’t seem like it. That is Lynn Aventino. She is an inspiration to me. She wants to help you get stronger and healthier while having fun,” he said.

Lynn, a Group Fitness Instructor at the Westerville Community Center, reciprocates the admiration.

“When I see someone like Bill and how far he has come over the last few years, it makes me want to be better,” she said.  “Bill gets it. He knows how difficult it is to start a new routine and he will go out of his way to make new people feel welcome and break the ice.”

Bill loves sharing his story, and even created a website to write about his weight loss experience.

DSCF9067 edited for blog“It is not only a good form of therapy for me, but I want to be able to support others as well. It is important to know you aren’t alone during this process,” said Bill.

His positive attitude caught the eye of WebMD Magazine. In their January/February issue, Bill’s story will reach more than eight million readers in doctors’ offices across the nation and online.

Now what will your story be? No matter the time of year, your fitness level, shape or size, Bill would say, “What are you waiting for?”


For more information on group fitness classes and passes at the Westerville Community Center, click here.

Healthy Active Lifestyle

Energize the Holiday Season

The Holidays: shopping, parties, cleaning, baking, decorating…the list goes on. You may feel run down or left with little time to devote to yourself this time of year. Megan Arnold, Westerville Parks and Recreation’s Fitness and Wellness Program Supervisor, is here with a quick workout and a few other tips to help keep you going strong and healthy the next couple of weeks.

Megan recommends a 30-minute format of High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT) workout that’s easy to squeeze in before work or before the kids wake up and life takes over. With interval training, you focus on bursts (or periods) of intense work followed by complete rest or active recovery exercise. This kind of routine will give you a metabolism-boosting, energy-expending workout that will help burn off those Christmas cookies.

All exercises should be modified to your ability level, taking into account your fitness level, the time you have to exercise and personal goals. The workout below requires no extra equipment – just you, some space and some effort.

(The exercise provided in this article is for educational purposes only. Exercise is not without risk and if performed incorrectly this or any exercise program many result in injury. To reduce the risk of injury, before beginning this or any exercise program, consult your physician. As with any exercise program, if you feel faint, dizzy, or experience chest pain or chest discomfort STOP immediately and contact your physician. The City of Westerville assumes no responsibility for accidents or injury to persons or property that result in connection with this exercise program.)

If you are new to exercise, Megan recommends lower impact exercises (keeping one foot in contact with the floor at all times to better protect the lower back and joints.) Lower impact and intensity modifications are provided in parenthesis below. If you are more advanced, allow both feet to leave the floor when jumping for an increase in intensity. It is always important to listen to your body when exercising and take breaks accordingly. Perform all exercises with correct form. If you are unable to do so, reduce your workout intensity or take a short rest. When lunging or squatting, protect your knees by pushing your hips back and down and keep your knees behind your toes. And always remember to breathe!


Warm-up for two to three minutes by walking/marching/or jogging in place.

*Click on the exercise for more information on proper form and demonstration.*

1. 15 Jumping Jacks and 15 Squat Jumps (or Squats)

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Rest 30 Seconds

2. 15 Tuck Jumps (or High Knees) and 15 Push-Ups (or Modified Push-Ups)

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Rest 30 Seconds

3. 15 Mountain Climbers (or Bench/Wall Mountain Climbers) and 15 Tricep Dips using a bench/chair/coffee table

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Rest 30 Seconds

4.  15 Jump and Reaches and 15 Glute Bridges

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Rest 30 seconds

5. 15 Prone (face-down) Supermans and 15 Switch Lunge Jumps (or Alternating Forward Lunges – No Jumping)

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Rest 30 Seconds

Repeat the entire series one to two more times, continuing to the perform the same amount of repetitions and breaks noted.

Holiday Dance Party 2014 for fb 2Make sure to cool-down by walking/marching in place for an additional two to three minutes (similar to the warm-up). Add in some mild stretching following the cool-down to minimize muscle soreness.

It can be helpful to have a workout buddy. If you need a little extra motivation and a good stress reliever, join us for our Holiday Dance Party fundraiser benefiting W.A.R.M. Sunday, December 21 at 2 p.m. in Community Center Aerobic Room. And don’t forget, the new year is right around the corner and you still have a chance to register for upcoming fitness classes.


Never go shopping without snacks.
Take a small bag of whole nuts, an apple, banana, or shaker with protein powder to keep your blood sugar stable while your body works hard running from store to store. If you go shopping without a plan, it is easier to become exhausted, hungry and make poor (and quick) food choices. Bring plenty of water, as dehydration can also make you feel hot and tired.

Have a holiday party strategy.
When you finally head to those holiday parties, don’t forget to eat beforehand and bring your own healthy option to fall back. Try using smaller plates and wait before heading back for seconds to curb overeating. Remember, it is okay to say no to Aunt Mary’s pumpkin pie too!

And lastly, don’t skimp on sleep.
There’s no doubt you might be up late wrapping presents before the big holiday, but on other nights try your best to get the amount of sleep you need. Research suggests getting enough Zzzs can help keep the pounds off, not to mention give you more energy throughout the day. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try turning off electronics in the bedroom or avoid large meals late at night.

Healthy Active Lifestyle

Month of Caring

When we think of Westerville, a vibrant historic city comes to mind. While the City is growing and thriving, it is easy to forget that we still have neighbors in need. The beauty of this time of year is that we are reminded we have the power to help those in need in our community.

Month of Caring 2014 for FB

Two Westerville organizations supporting residents in need during the holiday season you probably know well: Westerville Area Resource Ministry (W.A.R.M.) and Caring & Sharing.

“This is our busiest time of the year. The need is greater during the holidays and donations for our 500 client families will help for months to come. Every little bit counts,” said Claire Rockwell, Westerville Area Resource Ministry.

Parks and Recreation’s Month of Caring at the Westerville Community Center runs through December 21 benefiting both W.A.R.M. and Caring & Sharing. Anyone can participate.

“This program is one we love to put on every year. We want it to be easy for our patrons to drop-off donations before they work out or take a class at the Community Center. It is amazing to see how quickly the donation box fills up day after day,” said Lyn Kiger, Westerville Parks and Recreation Supervisor.

But the season of giving doesn’t stop with the Parks and Recreation Department. Every department within the City of Westerville participated in the annual food drive for Westerville Caring & Sharing.

City employees have collected 140,101 lbs of food since 1996. Linda Weir, Westerville Fire Division’s Administrative Secretary, helped start the internal initiative almost two decades ago.


“This food drive has grown tremendously over the past 19 years. We have a friendly competition among the departments to see who can collect the most donations. Each year, our city employees continue to step up for a good cause,” said Linda Weir.

This year was no different. Three city trucks pulled up to Caring & Sharing’s donation site on Thursday, December 11 to drop off all kinds of grocery staples and toys for the kids.


“This is my favorite part of the year, you can see the difference you are going to make in Westerville, in the lives of local families,” said Linda.

Westerville Caring & Sharing is an all-volunteer organization and uses a temporary site during the holidays to distribute to more than 300 families.

“We start with this huge empty building. The space is graciously donated for us to use and within a few days it is packed with toys, food, and volunteers. We wouldn’t be able to have this impact without the volunteers,” said Westerville Caring & Sharing volunteer Mary Pugh.


Because it is mainly Westerville residents helping others in Westerville, the organization keeps all the families confidential.

“People are shy to ask for help, and it is important for them to keep their dignity. We go to great lengths to show families that they can come to us if they need it and they have no reason to feel embarrassed,” said Mary.

As Westerville Caring & Sharing helpers prepared for the big distribution day on December 15, volunteers from the Westerville Service Department unloaded 10,274 lbs of donations with smiles, jokes and a great attitude.


Many of the departments go above and beyond the citywide food drive, hosting other holiday fundraisers in the community to give back. For more ways to donate or details on our Month of Caring, visit the City website at westerville.org.

Education & Exploration

The Magic of Snowflake Castle

What was that moment for you? That time when you could feel the magic of the holiday season so vividly you could almost grab it, and your heart swelled with an overwhelming sense of good in the world.

Through a child’s eyes, this is Snowflake Castle.

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Thousands of twinkling lights and festive decorations set the stage as kids approach Everal Barn and Homestead at Heritage Park during the first week of December.

“It is an event unlike any other, where kids get to be completely engulfed and interact with the exhibits, Santa and his elves,” said Westerville Senior Center Program Supervisor Christopher Shirring.

Now in it’s 30th year, Snowflake Castle is going above and beyond to create a magical experience for more than 5,000 visitors.

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One first-time visitor was three year-old Nico Biancone. This was a special day for Nico’s Grandma Cathy. Nico’s mother came to Snowflake Castle 27 years ago when she was just three years-old too.

“My daughter went to Snowflake Castle with a friend and talked about it for days. She loved it,” said Cathy Biancone. “And now so many years later, I am able to take my grandson. It is neat that this holiday tradition can be passed down to the next generation.”

Nico and his friend, Kayla Zuk, checked out the trains, gift shop and face painting before heading up to the big attraction: Santa’s Workshop.

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Little ones make and paint their own wooden toy with Santa’s elves. The new star this year was the tanker train toy.

“Where else do kids get to use power tools and hammers with Santa’s elves?” said Shirring. “They get so excited to say they actually made a toy and then get to take it home. It is a source of pride for them. I still have my toy from a similar program when I was young.”

The production of Snowflake Castle doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a considerable amount preparation and time, especially the wooden toys.

“We have a team of nine helpers that begin cutting the toys in April. It takes them about six months and 9,000 cuts to get everything ready,” said Shirring.

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As a fundraiser for the Westerville Senior Association, the event is heavily staffed by volunteers among their membership.

“This a great way to showcase the talents of our membership, and it gives them an opportunity to engage the community while having a positive impact on a new generation,” said Shirring.

Kayla even asked to come back this year to see the elves.

“She loved making the toy and still has the one she made last year,” said Kayla’s mother, Ana Zuk. “The senior volunteers are really wonderful with the kids; it is great to see them involved.”

After toys are assembled, Nico and Kayla have a chance to fully soak in Santa’s workshop, even the falling snow.

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It is now time to see the Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Kids get an inside look into the toy operation, including Santa’s sleigh as they head into the Homestead.

“The $5 ticket includes a picture with Santa and Mrs. Claus. And since some kids, even my daughter, are a little afraid of Santa, Mrs. Claus helps put them at ease,” said Shirring.

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Long after Snowflake Castle ends, the magic of this Westerville Winter Wonderland carries with many of the children who experience it.

“There are a lot of kids that believe Santa lives at Everal Barn. One of our employees’ daughter points it out everytime they drive by,” said Shirring.

Snowflake Castle is sold out this year. But you can check out the 2015 dates at the City Events Calendar here – http://goo.gl/Z0gJj9. And tell us what you think makes Snowflake Castle so special by commenting on this post!


Parks & Facilities

The Art of Thanksgiving

What is your Thanksgiving tradition? Do you watch the parade, run a turkey trot or play games with the family?

After our stomachs are full and we have an extra moment to spend with loved ones, Westerville Cultural Arts Coordinator Ana Underman recommends an artistic craft to make with the kids that will not only entertain, but also highlight the importance of this holiday. You can create your own Thankful Tree.

“Having a physical reminder of what you are thankful for can be a great addition to your holiday celebration. It is also a good way for the kids to connect art with things that are important in their lives,” said Ana.

A Thankful Tree can be as extravagant or simple as you like. And, you can use items around the house to assemble it.

Here is what you will need:
Three pieces of cardboard (or heavy card-stock, cereal box)
Construction paper
Glue (or pushpins, hot glue gun, tape)
Decorations (watercolor, markers, crayons, stamps, etc.)

To get started, trace a tree trunk on the cardboard and cut out.

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Once the trunk is cut, use this as a template to trace out another separate piece of the trunk, this time only drawing half the trunk to a triangle point. Cut.

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Decorate the tree trunk; the kids can add roots and knots. Then cut a slit halfway down the top of tree trunk and halfway up the bottom of the other triangle trunk so that the two pieces can slide together and meet in the middle.

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Now that your trunk is ready to go, draw and cut out a circle for the top of the tree. Add another small cut in the middle to attach the circle to the trunk.

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Assemble the trunk to the circle and glue down the sides of the tree to the circle.

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It is time to create the star of the show…the leaves. This is the part the kids will love.

As a family, trace out different shapes of leaves on multiple sheets of colored paper. You can find free templates online or free-hand draw. Decorate half of the leaves however you want, using watercolor, markers, or even festive stamps.

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With the remaining leaves, write what you are thankful for and share with your family. After the paint has dried, cut out the leaves and glue them on the circle, varying the color, shape and design. (A glue gun will speed up this process, but requires adult supervision.)

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Voila! You have a Thankful Tree. It can even be used as a centerpiece at the Thanksgiving table.

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The Parks and Recreation Thankful Tree includes the Community Center and our community parks. But above all, we are thankful for you, our residents and patrons this holiday. We wish you and your family a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

For more artistic holiday fun with Ana, the kids can join our next ArtMix class on Tuesday, December 16 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. at the Community Center. Click here for online registration.

Creative Arts

A Celebration of Life & Public Art

Cobert C edited for blog“My fondest hope is that the positive side of human relationships is reflected in my work.”

These are the words of sculptor Cobert C. Collins, a man who loved art and life and desired to share his passion with the world. He believed the process of making art was only complete when it was seen by others.

A collection of Cobert C. Collins’ art work, the bronze metal sculptures you see sprinkled throughout the City, are on display for you to enjoy, appreciate and interpret.

How these sculptures came to Westerville is quite a story. Collins started his career as a restaurateur, owning a couple successful eateries in upstate New York.

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“He started fooling around with clay and began creating ice carvings for catering orders for the business. He realized the talent was there. He liked doing it and wanted to pursue this growing artistic ability further,” said Mike Collins, Cobert Collins’ son.

In 1971, Cobert Collins began learning the craft of welding. He developed the technique of modeling bronze into stainless steel through a direct welding process. His concept was to eliminate the hard, manufactured look of welded steel.

“He used the metal to show movement, change and the importance of bonds between people. He was so full of joy and fascinated by our connection to the world, to each other and art,” said Mike.

After exhibiting at a couple small galleries in New York, Collins wanted to transition into making art full-time. So, he sold the restaurants and moved to West Palm Beach to focus on his craft.

“Both my father and I moved the same year for our careers. As he traveled to Florida, I settled into Westerville. It was definitely a turning point in our lives, a new chapter,” said Mike.

By 1981, Collin’s work began to take off. At the pinnacle of his career, Collins had his pieces in 16 different cities.

“He was one of the leading artists in Palm Beach County. I was so proud of him,” said Mike. “He had the perfect combination of business savvy and true artistic skill that made him so successful.”

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During the same time, Mike Collins’ love for the City of Westerville, the education system and the parks was growing. Mike Collins helped create the Westerville Parks Foundation when he served a term as Chair for the Recreation Advisory Board, and he is now an Ohio State Board of Education member.

After his father’s passing on March 19, 2013, Mike and his sister, Ricki, wanted to see their father’s legacy live on. A large portion of Collins’ work was given to the Westerville Parks Foundation in partnership with the Cobert C. Collins Memorial Sculpture Fund, LLC. Through this partnership his work continues to be displayed and sold in the greater Westerville area. (Fifty percent of the proceeds from the sale of these sculptures goes to the Westerville Parks Foundation, which further supports the Westerville Parks and Recreation Department and its programs.)

Mike Collins and Ricki Collins with Shadow Dancers

Mike Collins and Ricki Collins with Shadow Dancers

“I have such a deep history with the Parks and Recreation Department and with the art world,” said Mike. “I saw this as a chance to marry those two interests. It is heartwarming to see my father’s work being appreciated here.”

It is too difficult for Mike to narrow down the list when it comes to his favorite piece. Many of the sculptures remind him of memories of his father and their family, like “Challenger” in front of the Westerville Community Center.

“It was 12:05 p.m. in January. I had gone to Florida to visit my Father. We were all driving in the car and looked up knowing the Challenger shuttle was set to take off around that time. We saw the explosion right before our eyes. It is something you will never forget. He made that piece as a tribute to the crew members,” said Mike.

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The Collins sculptures are now part of a community-wide art initiative being developed in Westerville for years to come.

“We are honored to have the Collins pieces in Westerville as the Parks and Recreation Department continues to grow public art in the community. The sculptures truly add aesthetic and educational value to the City,” said Westerville Parks and Recreation Director Randy Auler.

Mike hopes the collection will serve as a doorway for more artists in the area.

“Over the years, my father mentored many young artists. He wanted to see the art industry flourish. Our hope is that his work will continue to expose Westerville to various forms of artistic expression, become an inspiration to others and help pave the way for other artists to start a career here,” said Mike.

The next time you see a Collins sculpture, stop for a moment. See the celebration of life and help complete the artistic process that Cobert C. Collins believed in.

Click here for additional information on Cobert C. Collins and where to view his sculptures in Westerville. The Parks and Recreation Department is in production of a video featuring ways to enjoy public art in the City including the Collins Collection, so check back for more.

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Creative Arts