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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Friday, Aug. 4, 2017 1 year ago

Baldwin Park Kids Club brings families together, forms friendships

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The club has given families a fun calendar of events since they first began in January 2012.
by: Tim Freed Associate Editor

Looking for activities for your child? Want to meet other parents in your neighborhood? Do you live in Baldwin Park?

Join the club.

The Baldwin Park Kids Club launched five years ago and continues to grow with more families. The club’s mission is to give parents an easy way to make friends and meet their neighbors. Throughout the year, the club hosts a variety of events for Baldwin Park families. Parents and their children can RSVP for group events and field trips by looking up the list through the Meetup app.

That’s the vision that Baldwin Park residents Meri Gaston and Julie Hemphill had in January 2012, when they first started the club.

“So many times, you hear of moms or people who stay home with their kids being lonely, because it can be isolating,” says Gaston, who today has a 6-year-old daughter, Whitney, and a 15-month-old son, Jayce, in the club. “I wanted to meet other moms and adults and families that I could grow with, and that my daughter could grow up with these friends. It sort of exceeded all my expectations. It’s amazing. It’s awesome to see the kids grow together.”

The club held its first meeting with families at the start of that year at the Enders Park Clubhouse. Fifteen families attended. Since then, that number has grown and reached up to 125 families throughout the five years of the club and currently sits at about 75.

Watching the group — and their children — grow has been a wonderful experience, Gaston says.

“It’s amazing, and it’s so fulfilling,” she says. “I look around at my core group of friends now, and most of our kids are older and going into first grade. They were little babies when they met. All these people didn’t know each other.

“It’s one of (our) greatest accomplishments,” she says. “It’s really enriched my life. I know it’s enriched my daughter’s life, also.”

The Kids Club has enjoyed a wide variety of activities in the past five years, including field trips to the zoo, story times, holiday-themed parties and play-dates in the parks. A group of 15 children and their parents visited the Emeril Lagasse Foundation Kitchen House & Culinary Garden in early June. There, they learned how to make a healthy breakfast of scrambled eggs with peppers, mushrooms and other veggies with a side of avocado toast. The children walked the nearby garden and picked the greens themselves before cooking up the tasty meals with their parents.

“It has really turned friends into family,” says Baldwin Park resident Piper Mandigo, who has a 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old daughter in the club. “Everyone in the club is super welcoming and very involved. Honestly, it’s a group of family. It’s been so essential to both of my daughters having neighborhood friends of all ages.”

In the last three years, the club even has branched off into clubs for parents. At least once a month, mothers come together for shopping sprees, dinner outings or painting classes. A book club of about 15 Baldwin Park residents has launched, as well. There was even a day set just for dads, during which a group of fathers went to a leather shop in College Park, drank beer and made their own belts.

Gaston says the original club always was meant to bring people together and that new families in Baldwin Park are more than welcome to join.

It’s better to do life together, she says.

“You get out of it what you put into it,” she says. “I’ve put my heart and soul into this, and I have made some of my closest, best friends from this group. If you show up and come out to things, you’re going to have these meaningful relationships.

“It’s so hard to connect with other moms and have meaningful conversation when the kids are running around,” Gaston says. “You’re pulled into a million different directions, so when we do have a paint night and different things like that, it’s a chance to get to know these women on a different level. It helps foster friendships.”

Tim Freed is an Associate Editor with the Winter Park/Maitland Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

See All Articles by Tim

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