Despite the fact that it rained intermittently through most of the evening, children who attended the fifth annual “Kids Night Out” celebration on Thursday at the imPossible Dream at 575 Centerville Avenue were wearing bright, sunny smiles.
For just $5, they participated in all sorts of activities, including frosting pre-made cupcakes; having their faces painted; getting “inked” with temporary tattoos; watching Shriner clown Frank DiMascio create balloon animals for them; and enjoying cookies and popcorn.
Amongst the festivities, John “Johnny Mac” McGowan, 19, was honored for all the support he has given to “the Dream” since he was in sixth grade. In spirit of his passion for radio, as he is attending Mitchell College in Connecticut and majoring in Communications, a playhouse was crafted to resemble a radio station and dedicated to him on the playground at the imPossible Dream.
“We thought it was time to put a smile on his face,” said Diane Florio Penza, the executive director of the imPossible Dream. “He’s a remarkable young man.”
McGowan, who just concluded his freshman year at the New London college, serves as the DJ and station manager for the on-campus radio station. He said it was a “big surprise” when Penza unveiled the playhouse, which had been covered by a large, white sheet.
“Now, there’s a piece of me at the playground all the time,” McGowan said.
McGowan initially became involved with the imPossible Dream when his mother suggested he become a volunteer. After the playground was vandalized nearly five years ago, he helped make repairs and continued to enjoy his work at the facility.
“To raise money and awareness for kids that are less fortunate than others has been a great opportunity,” he said. “I’m happy to see them living their dreams and making their dreams come true. Seeing kids have fun at the events we have is great.”
Penza said John Henry, as she affectionately calls him, is one-of-a-kind. She said she is impressed with his kindness and consideration, especially to children with disabilities.
“To be able to relate to someone with disabilities is unique for someone his age,” said Penza. “He has compassion for kids that don’t have much. He really has a lot of drive and energy and it’s very refreshing.”
McGowan’s parents, Jean and Robert, also attended the ceremony. They said they were extremely proud of their son.
“I’m overjoyed,” said, Jean, who is on the board of directors for the imPossible Dream. “It’s really a wonderful thing that [Penza] has done for him. When she first told me about it, I started to cry. We taught him how to give back and he volunteers a lot of his time.
He’s a very giving boy and he works very hard.”
Robert agreed and said, “He got a good start with all the volunteer work he did [during his days as a student] at Hendricken.”
The proceeds from “Kids Night Out” will benefit the maintenance of the playground itself. In order to generate more funds for the cause, The imPossible Dream will be hosting “Christmas in July” on Saturday, July 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. More than 30 venders will be selling items such as scarves, jewelry, books and ornaments, just to name a few.
In the meantime, Penza said she is happy the children will get to use the radio station, which has been dubbed, “WJMJM,” or Johnny Mac’s Jammin’ Music.
“It’s another form of imaginative play for the children and that makes me feel good,” she said. “It’s good, old-fashioned play.”
In the future, she hopes more young adults will serve as volunteers not only at the imPossible Dream, but also in the local community.
“The more young people that get involved with doing things like this will see how rewarding it can be,” said Penza. “We need more John Henrys.”
While the playground serves children with disabilities, as well as those in need, it is also open to the general public. The playground is entirely supported by donations and is open April through October from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday through Saturday. It is also available for functions, including birthday parties. For more information, call 401-823-5566.