Mass Innovations, From the Beacon, February 2012

MMA Innovation Award winner, 2012

Two weeks before school let out last June, the Department of Housing and Community Development arranged for more than 100 homeless families to be housed in motels on Route 1 in Danvers.

The timing posed a challenge for local officials: What would the dozens of school-age kids do during the long, hot days of summer?

“If you can picture little kids playing in the parking lots along Route 1, that’s what we had,” Town Manager Wayne Marquis recalled.

Marquis met with David Mountain, the town’s recreation director, and the two of them, along with other local officials and volunteer organizations, swiftly put a program in place. Two local banks, with the help of other local businesses, donated a total of $30,000, which was used to pay staff salaries, transportation costs and other program-related expenses.

The plan was to pick up kids, ages 6 to 14, each morning by school bus, bring them to a local elementary school, provide them with breakfast, lunch and snacks provided by the town’s senior center, and keep the kids occupied with a variety of activities and outings.

“To be honest with you, when the summer started, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Mountain said.

On the first day of what came to be known as Project Sunshine, “it took 45 minutes for staff to go door-to-door and for the kids to come out,” Mountain recalled. “The next day it took half an hour. The next day it took 15 minutes, and from that day on, the kids were waiting every day when the bus showed up. And more and more kids started showing up.”

Each week was jammed with activities and, in many cases, bus trips to attractions in other cities and towns. The first week of August, for example, featured trips to Devereaux Beach in Marblehead and Franklin Park Zoo in Boston as well as visits to Danvers’ police and fire stations and lunch at a restaurant that offered a large Italian festival-day meal.

At the lunch, Mountain recalled, “the Styrofoam trays came out, and the kids were writing ‘Mom,’ or ‘Dad’ or ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ – three or four containers for dinner that night.”

Many of the activities called for swimsuits, which the town purchased for kids who didn’t already have them. One task for Cheryl Marshall, the town’s recreation program manager, was to find a full-body swimsuit for a child who adhered to traditional Islamic standards of modesty.

David Pulster, associate director at the Department of Housing and Community Development, made a visit to the camp as the program was concluding in late August.

“He just came out to say thank-you,” Mountain said. “But I think that when he came out, he saw more than he thought he would see. We didn’t just warehouse the kids. That’s not what this was about.”

For more information, contact David Mountain at (978) 777-0001, ext. 3094.

The winners of the annual Kenneth Pickard Municipal Innovation Awards were recognized at the MMA Annual Meeting on Jan. 21.