Aldermen Examine Pros Of Free Beach Token Pilot Program

By Rebecca HuvalThe Daily Northwestern

Summer is the season when children roam free, except on Evanston beaches.

The season-pass beach tokens, which are sold starting in April, cost between $20 and $51, and a daily pass costs $7 for those ages 12 and older and $5 for children age 1-11. But this February, Evanston City Council voted to make it easier for children to access the beach for free.

Last season, the city’s Department of Health and Human Services distributed 600 free beach tokens for organizations to give to low-income families. The pilot program will be reviewed by the Human Services Committee on Nov. 6, when a report from token-distributing organizations and the Department of Parks, Forestry and Recreation will be presented to determine if free tokens will be distributed again.

All of the tokens were distributed to organizations, but the city has yet to determine how many were passed out to families.

“The beach belongs to all of us,” Ald. Cheryl Wollin (1st) said. “If it was as successful as I think it was, we need to replicate it.”

The city gave tokens to eight Evanston organizations that serve low-income families, and the organizations separately decided how to distribute tokens.

Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc., with five after-school sites, told children in its programs about the tokens, called parents and gave tokens to well-behaved students at some sites. Officials also said they sought out struggling families who needed more time together. There weren’t enough tokens for the families that wanted them, said Jason Price, program director of Youth Organizations Umbrella.

Price said he wanted to let low-income children do activities they see more fortunate peers doing.

“In Evanston there’s a greater disparity between the people who have money and the people who don’t,” he said. “With all the development and the movie theaters downtown, more wealthy families are moving in. They see the kids with more resources, and these kids don’t get to do as much as their peers. We’re giving kids the opportunity to do what kids typically do – go to the beach with their families.”

At Evanston/Skokie Valley Senior Services, staff distributed tokens at group meetings and delivered remaining tokens to families’ houses. Of the 75 tokens they received, Senior Services used 70 and gave the remaining five to the Child Care Network of Evanston.

Senior Services officials said they sought out seniors who are the primary caretakers of their grandchildren.

“A lot of our members have five to six kids, so it would’ve been very expensive to go to the beach,” said Danielle Clemons, program supervisor at the center. “It provided a benefit to a needy and worthy group of people. These people changed their lives to take care of grandchildren.”

Parents at Youth Organizations Umbrella were rewarded as well, said Jermaine Nation, YOU site coordinator for the Chute Middle School.

“For the parents, it shows them we really care about their kids and their families as well,” Nation said. “Low-income families get overlooked and don’t get to do things that revolve around money. A lot of our parents work two to three jobs, so to relax with their kids is great because they might not otherwise get the chance.”

But before Nation made phone calls to parents, he told students they were receiving tokens and saw their reactions first-hand.

“They were so happy,” Nation said. “Before, they didn’t get to go to the beach, period. They were all smiles. They said thank you, and they would continue to work hard and be rewarded some more.”

Reach Rebecca Huval at [email protected]