Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

April 6, 2012

Festival officials hope teens get the message

Flyers have been distributed. Stories published and ambassadors recruited.

GOSHEN — Flyers have been distributed. Stories published and ambassadors recruited.

And amid all the effort, Goshen officials will see if it’s making an impact tonight on the behavior of middle school students who have become a cause of concern at First Fridays.

Tonight’s activities mark the first monthly downtown festival since officials began openly expressing concern about unsupervised youths who have flooded the festival in recent months to the point that sidewalks and store fronts have become impassable.

“There’s been a lot of education about what’s OK and not OK to do during First Fridays with kids,” said Gina Leichty, director of Downtown Goshen Inc., which organizes First Fridays. “Overall, I think positive things have happened in the last month and I’m anticipating a really good event tomorrow.”

DGI recruited nearly three dozen “ambassadors” to greet festival-goers and keep an eye on activities.

Store owners have complained about entrances being blocked by large numbers of young people, some of whom have been less-than cooperative when asked to move aside.

Incidents of shoplifting and vandalism have also been reported.

Leichty said middle school-aged students are welcome to attend festival activities, but should be accompanied by adults.

Festival organizers have also helped create alternative activities for young people outside of the festival area in the downtown business district.

DGI worked with the Boys & Girls Club of Goshen to move a popular teen dance formerly held at the Goshen Theater during First Fridays to the Boys & Girls club at 306 Crescent St. from 6 to 10 p.m.

In recent months, the dance was attracting a capacity crowd of 150 people, and moving it to the Boys & Girls Club could result in even stronger attendance, said Mike Smith, program director for the club.

“We’re planning for a big dance,” Smith said.

The club agreed to open its doors to middle school-aged students who are non members during First Fridays. There is no admission charge, but those attending will be expected to provide a school identification card, Smith said.

Other games and activities are planned as well, Smith said.

“We’ve made a heavy push for about two and a half weeks at Goshen Middle School with flyers and announcements and staff talking to kids,” Smith said.

Richard Aguirre, an administrator at Goshen College and a member of the Community Relations Commission, will be among the ambassadors working tonight.

He said he hopes a spirit of cooperation will help make the festival enjoyable for everyone.

“It’s important for us to try and put ourselves in the position of the young people,” Aguirre said.

On the other hand, Aguirre added, “If they are involved in activities (such as) blocking sidewalks, blocking store entrances or other activities that are infringing on other people’s enjoyment ... police will be asking that they be more considerate of others.”

Ambassadors will be wearing shirts that read “Event Staff” and a recruitment letter used recently said they will work with police if problems arise.

Goshen police are expected to have a larger presence tonight as well, according to a statement issued by the police department.

Police will be reminding festival-goers of existing policies and may issue written warnings in some cases, the statement said.

“We are hopeful that this increase in personal notification to the juveniles will encourage or compel appropriate behavior resulting in a positive experience for every attendee,” The statement said.

The council is in the midst of considering two ordinances, including a curfew on the nights of First Fridays to help quell problems. City leaders had hoped to have the curfew and an ordinance prohibiting the blocking of sidewalks in force before today, but efforts to pass the proposals slowed down.

The council is expected to debate those proposals at its next meeting April 17.

Tonight’s activities will be highlighted by the “Green Day 5K Run” and a 2K Fun Walk. Registration remains open until about 5:30 p.m. Race activities will begin at West Washington Street between Main and Third streets. Start times are 5:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m.

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