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.

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“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.”

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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

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

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