NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ -For the past 16 summers, the Summer Teen Evening Program – known to community members simply as STEP – has been achieving its goal of providing North Plainfield’s youth with a free and fun – yet safe, structured and supervised – way to spend their summer nights.
STEP is currently held at North Plainfield Middle School on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m. and open to residents 18 and under. This year’s program will run through Aug. 13 and participants have the opportunity to do crafts, play board games, and participate in friendly basketball, badminton and soccer matches while enjoying refreshments and socializing with friends.
There are also special themed-nights and events throughout the summer including but not limited to pizza night and the National Night Out celebration on Aug. 4. Additionally, this year, North Plainfield Library’s new teen librarian Errol Logan will conduct Game Night every other Tuesday; the next one is scheduled for July 14 and will feature card, video and board games.
The STEP program was founded back in 2000 by Joan Graham, a counselor for the North Plainfield School District for 28 years, along with North Plainfield Police Detective Eric Fowler and retired Detective Alex Kuga in an effort to provide the community’s youth with a safe place to spend their summer evenings.
“We looked at the needs of the town and noticed many kids were hanging out on the streets at night because there was nothing for them to do in the summer,” Graham, who serves as program director, said. “We wanted to find an alternative for them.”
These days, Graham and Fowler, along with Detective Albert ‘Tito’ Domizi run the program, with assistance from North Plainfield resident Rob Foote as program supervisor and community volunteers. Thirteen-year-old Delilah Saquic, who has been participating in STEP for eight years, said she enjoys the opportunity to hang out with her friends. “Here, we get exercise and get to play soccer,” Delilah said, adding, “Everyone here is really nice.”
Funding for STEP comes from the North Plainfield Municipal Alliance/Youth Services Commission and the program is conducted in conjunction with the North Plainfield Police Department and the North Plainfield School District, which donates the use of the facilities each year; STEP was held at both Somerset and Stony Brook schools before relocating to the middle school three years ago.
“We are extremely thankful that the school district provides us use of the facilities free of charge,” said Graham, noting that since being implemented, there have been no incidents of vandalism of school property or equipment. “Everyone who comes is respectful of us, the property and each other.”
According to Fowler, who also serves as school resource officer running the both the DARE and GREAT programs within the district, STEP offers the community’s youth a safe and secure place to hang out. “Instead of sitting in the house and watching TV or going out and getting in trouble, they can come here and hang out with friends. They know that they can come here and that it’s a positive, safe place,” he said, adding that the program provides an opportunity for him, Domizi and Graham to interact with the students, out of uniform and in a laid back environment.
“We get to build upon the repertoire we established with them during the school year as counselors and police officers,” Fowler said. “Kids are able to reach out to use in a positive way and we are here to talk to them and help them if they need us.”
North Plainfield STEP will be held on Tuesday and Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the middle school through Aug. 13. No registration is necessary. For more information, contact Detective Domizi at 908-769-2971 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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