Looking for something to do this summer?

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 13, 2008

The lights dim and the smell of freshly popped popcorn drifts into the movie theater. As the opening credits roll across the screen, the audience erupts into thunderous applause.

That was the scene that I imagined Tuesday morning when I heard that the Arcade Theater in Ferriday was offering free movies to area kids.

It is summer, after all. What child could resist the chance to sit in an air-conditioned theater with free drinks and popcorn?

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Unfortunately the scene Tuesday afternoon was very different than the images in my head.

Despite the air conditioning, despite the free admission, only two children showed up.

Area churches offered the movie for students who have finished the first through third grades.

But only two kids showed up.

The scene was not much better in Natchez that afternoon.

High Strung, a rock band that has made national headlines by going on tour to libraries across the nation, helped kick-off the summer reading program for the George Armstrong Public Library.

The library reserved City Auditorium for this event, hoping that the dance floor would be filled with lots of children dancing and having a good time.

Unlike the scene at the Arcade Theater, a sizable group of children and their parents came to listen and dance.

But the number of kids that danced like a bunch of jumping beans didn’t come close to filling up the auditorium dance floor. There was plenty of room left for many more children.

That doesn’t count the sea of empty chairs that circled the dance floor.

And like the offering in Ferriday, there was air conditioning and the event was absolutely free.

Such scenes leave me scratching my head when I hear from many people I meet who say that there isn’t anything in the Miss-Lou for children to do.

It is a common refrain that every photographer of the Natchez Democrat hears.

Many of my days as a photojournalist were spent bouncing from one community event to another.

In fact, some days would be so busy that I would not make it back to the office until the sun went down.

That is why comments about children in the Miss-Lou not having anything to do have always rung hollow to me.

Flipping through recent pages of the newspaper, one can find a multitude of summer programs for children of all ages.

Guitar lessons, two acting workshops, summer reading programs, summer videos, cooking camps, pioneer week, discovery camp, computer camp, art camp — the offerings are endless.

And if that weren’t enough, practically every church in town will be hosting a Vacation Bible School.

You don’t even have to look any farther than today’s Top of the Morning to find a free program that gives children a chance to improve their self-confidence, their language skills and their ability to work with others and have fun doing it.

While the children have a ball, these programs teach vital skills that will help them excel when they return to their school desks in August.

What more could a child and a parent want?

Yet the Arcade Theater entertained only two students Tuesday afternoon.

Maybe parents and children want nothing more to do than complain that there is nothing to do.

That’s a shame because there is plenty more to do.

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.