Simpson Park Community Center Celebrates Spookfest
by James Coulter
Children often stop by the Simpson Park Community Center late in the day to attend its many after-school programs. On Thursday, they stopped by to celebrate Halloween during its annual Spookfest event.
For the sixth consecutive year, Spookfest (an event which recently had its name changed this year) allowed local children to dress up in costume and visit the community center for a chance to receive candy, play games, and enjoy a free hot dog dinner.
Local vendors set up various booths with fun activities including inflatable bounce houses, laser tag, basketball, archery, and video games. After playing games and receiving free candy, attendees could enjoy a free meal with hot dogs, chips, and lemonade.
This year, the Simpson Park Community Center partnered with several other local neighborhood organizations such as after school programs, churches, schools, and the police department to help put on their event.
“Our goal this year was to have a fun and exciting and safe trick or treating experience for all the kids in the community,” said John Williams, Simpson Park Community Center Recreational Supervisor.
The hardest part of hosting an event such as this is ensuring that there is enough food for everyone, Williams said. Other than that, the effort that goes into organizing this event more than makes the whole endeavor worthwhile, Williams said.
“I enjoy seeing the costumes, all the children dressed up in costumes as their favorite characters and superheroes and what not, just out here dancing and having a good time,” he said.
Lake Gibson Middle School was one of the local organizations assisting the event that evening. The school has an outreach team that regularly ventures into the community to offer their support in an effort to reach out to local children and their families, explained Kelsey Whalen, a teacher.
“So we are here to be a part of this event to showcase the community that Lake Gibson is here and that we care about them and to see what we can do for the parents and the kids,” she said.
Whalen appreciated how the event allowed a safe environment for the children to receive their Halloween candy and enjoy other fun activities without having to venture too far from their homes.
“I think it is an amazing event,” he said. “I think it is so awesome to see the kids having fun in a safe environment.”
Crystal Graham, Executive Director for Kids House, also volunteered for the event. She was one of many representatives from local organizations who served as vendors offering information to the public about their respective causes.
As the coordinator for Red Ribbon Walk, Graham was able to inform the public about her organization’s upcoming event, where local children would walk from downtown to the park and offer a pledge to stay in school and remain drug-free.
“Red Ribbon serves as an engine for communities and individuals to take a stand for the hopes and the dreams of our children through a drug-free commitment to live drug-free lives for the creation of a drug-free America,” Graham said. “I do this every year in the community to educate the kids as well as the adults.”
Not only was she able to reach more children and other prospective participants for her event this year, but she was also able to help with that evening’s event to offer children a safe place to celebrate Halloween.
“I think that the weather was a great turnout,” she said. “It is a great way to keep kids safe and keep them in a safe environment and not have them throughout the community and be in one place where you know the people are and what they are getting from the people.”
Simpson Park Community Center is located at 1725 Martin L King Jr Ave, Lakeland, FL 33805. To learn more about its after-school program and various other community programs, visit their website at: https://www.lakelandgov.net/departments/parks-recreation/simpson-park-community-center/