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  • by Chris Stewart

Time for the Kids

The size of his office is deceiving. A small desk and table, a couple of filing cabinets, cupboards filled with basketballs, hockey sticks, baseball bats and assorted tennis shoes, and three chairs take up most of the limited space. But from this office in the North Conway Community Center Kim Perkins helps to organize and carry out more than 40 different activities ranging from children's soccer to a clay sculpture class.

As Director of the Community Center for the past 22 years, Kim's work has required him to take on dozens of different tasks - a challenge he finds both stimulating and rewarding. "One of the things I like most about my job is that it's always changing," Kim explained. "I can go from chopping wood to coaching a Little Guys' Hockey team to refereeing Flag Football. It's always different."

Like many other people, Kim started out following one career and wound up in another. After graduation from Tilton-Northfield High School he enrolled in the University of New Hampshire's School for Animal Husbandry. While attending UNH, he worked part-time for the Golden Rule Farm for boys in Tilton (now the Spaulding Youth Center) to help finance his education. "The school was set up to help boys with problems," Kim said . "Most of them came from broken homes and had run-ins with the law."

His work there attracted the attention of Tilton's selectmen who were looking for someone to organize their town's recreation program. "That's partly why the selectmen contacted me," Kim recalled. "They wanted a person to set up their program. To make a long story short, they asked me and I said I would." With a budget of $3,500, Kim did just that. Three-and-a-half years later, a new opportunity arose. In the summer of 1958, the North Conway Community Center was looking for a new Director and Kim applied for the position. "They took applications from all over New England," Kin added, "and I was the lucky candidate."

When Kim and his wife and family moved to North Conway in 1958 they didn't know that they'd end up staying more than 22 years. "The arrangement was for a one-year trial," Kim noted, "which was a mutual agreement with the Center's Board of Directors. The Community Center wasn't as stable then as it is now, and we took a sizeable cut in salary with the job." Over time, however, Kim proved to be the right person for the job.

In 1958 the Community Center was home base for the American Legion Baseball program and the North Conway Community Center Band, two programs that have since branched out on their own. Aside from these groups, activities were organized on an "openhouse" basis, with a variety of loosely-knit summer activities organized at the Community Center. "Initially I looked around to see what was needed and tried to set up programs to meet those needs," Kim said. "I didn't want to duplicate programs like the Little League, but I wanted to offer something new."

That fall, three weeks after he arrived, Kim started a Little Guys Basketball League, a program which is as popular now as it was then. "The basketball program began on a shoe-string," Kim continued. "I was coach, driver, manager, and referee. All we had to do was buy a basketball and start playing games."

The next year, two other programs were added that have continued uninterrupted for more than 20 years. "Topsy Samuelson and Ruth Pope started Art Classes in 1959," Kim said, "and it has been a very, very popular program every year." 1959 also marked the beginning of the tackle football program. "It was something for fifth through eighth graders," Kim recalled. "We had two afternoons a week for practice and a Saturday morning game." Since the Junior High Schools have subsequently begun their own football teams the focus of the Community Center's football has changed to a flag-football league (a variation of touch football) for 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

Over the years, Kim has worked to provide the kinds of programs which no other group in the community offered. "All our programs we offer undergo an evaluation process," he explained. "In general we try to arrange programs that will continue for a long time - we try to avoid activities that begin and die in the same year." Even with this effort to maintain lasting activities which meet the community's needs, those needs have changed. "With some of the programs we started, there was simply not enough local interest to keep them going," Kim pointed out. "Indoor archery as an example was popular in the early 1960s - for adults as well as kids - but interest fell off after a while. Interests and programs do change."

While interests and programs have varied over the years, community support for the Center has been steadfastly strong. Ever since the Gibson family built the center, area residents and organizations have contributed more and more to its support. Kim noted that the Center's budget hovered around $6,000 a year in 1958. Today that figure has been increased tenfold.

"In 1960, we received $1,500 from the North Conway Water Precinct," Kim noted. "That was the start." Last year, the Center raised some $34,000, a figure which represented more than half its total budget. Through events such as the Volvo Tournament food concession, the Mud Football game, high school dances, rental income, and the proceeds from an appeal letter, Kids Night Out and the summer-long Country Bargains Sale (a used clothing operation the Community Center organizes), the Center has been able to finance its expanding programs. The continued generous support of the North Conway Water Precinct and the Town of Conway has consistently financed the rest of the operation.

Beyond the financial backing of the community, the Center's programs have expanded as a result of active and widespread participation by area residents. Kim cited adult art classes, which began as a spin-off of the children's' program, and the Saco Softball League as examples of that support. "This trend toward greater community backing can be seen in the increased budget," Kim said, "but it's also evident in the number of people now involved in the Center's activities. We have an association with a huge number of people including infants and retired people; the Center tries to reach everyone to give them the opportunity to participate in recreational activities."

Since the Center now sponsors groups ranging from the infants' aquatic class to the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, its activities cater to an increasingly wide range of interests. From programs such as the Adult Art Classes to Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, its impact touches every age group and almost every program in the area in some way. Still, as Kim pointed out, the continued success of the Center depends on active participation from the community.

"We've been successful over the years because we've always been open-minded about new programs coming in," Kim said. "We try to be receptive to new ideas and new programs. But when you come right down to it, we depend on the cooperation of the adults to make this work." As an example Kim singled out Greg Kendrick as a person who made his job easier. "Greg takes the responsibility for opening and closing the Center for our Monday night volleyball games," Kim explained. "By doing this, he frees us so we'll have time to do something else. These things make the job much easier."

Having one full-time assistant - Bill Zack - and more than 40 separate programs to attend to, this type of cooperation is critical. Aside from giving Kim greater time to work with boys and girls basketball teams, the flag football program, Babe Ruth and Pee Wee baseball, and other activities it permits him to work on a variety of special events including trips to Portland and Boston so that area youngsters can watch the Ice Capades, the Mariners, the Red Sox, and the Celtics in action. "We feel that these trips are beneficial." Kim noted, "because they give the kids the chance to be exposed to different experiences."

In the long run, Kim's satisfaction from working at the Community Center comes from a sense of helping others to work toward a goal no matter what that goal might be. "It's a very rewarding job simply because you can see youngsters and adults of all ages participating and having a good time," Kim said. "When you can look back at the end result of a year's program, it's a good feeling to know that you were part of something which brought some pleasure to others."

That feeling of satisfaction is magnified when former participants in Community Center programs drop in for a visit. "From time to time, we find young people who come back and say,"I remember when I was playing basketball", or "I remember when we were playing down in the game room" or whatever," Kim said. "They return just to say thanks and that's always a good feeling."

This year, like other years, the Community Center has taken on several new programs in its ongoing effort to meet area people's needs. In addition to sponsoring the infant aquatic class (taught by Linda Burns at the Fox Ridge Resort), Kim pointed out that the Center hopes to begin a baseball league for 13- and 14-year-olds this summer and a crafts class as soon as a capable instructor can be found. "Usually we can use help from qualified people in coaching football, soccer, and baseball teams and the art programs," Kim said. "And the Girls Scouts and Cub Scouts can always use volunteer parents to serve as drivers."

While the Community Center's programs encompass everything from the Arts in the Park Show to Skinny Ski Races and sponsorship of the Saco Valley Horseshoe League, its basic aims remain the same. "Children, as well as adults, need exposure to different things," Kim explained. "Our goal is to make these activities available for everyone to try. Sometimes people say, 'You offer too much' or 'You offer too many activities' but everyone has different needs and interests. We've had four kids in our clay modeling class, 25 in the trampoline class, and as may as 250 for the weekly high school dances. Through these diverse programs we hope to appeal to as many people as we can. If you can possibly offer a program, and if you have the leadership available, our philosophy is to try it."

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