Kids from archdiocesan Catholic Social Services’ Out of School Time (OST) program cooled off during a July 19 party at Neshaminy Shore Picnic Park. Now in its ninth year, the annual gathering highlights the strengths and benefits of the OST program, which serves more than 16,000 children each year. (Photo by Sarah Webb)

Old school fun entertained several hundred kids in the archdiocesan Out of School Time (OST) program at an annual picnic in lower Bucks County.

On July 19, more than 600 children and preteens gathered for the ninth annual OST picnic, which took place at Neshaminy Shores Park in Hulmeville.

Operated by Catholic Social Services (CSS) at nine sites throughout the city, the OST programs annually provide some 16,000 children with an array of academic, recreational and social support.

Throughout the summer months, OST programs assist working families by providing children with recreational activities and academic reinforcement programs designed to keep their cognitive skills sharp. Students at OST sites receive instruction in dance, reading, culinary arts, handcrafts, STEM education and more.

(Related: View a photo feature on the ninth annual Out of School Time picnic.)

Those summer learning assignments were put on hold for the picnic, which like the OST program receives substantial funding from the Archbishop’s Benefit for Children (ABC), a year-round campaign that sustains programming for children, adults and families of all faiths throughout the Archdiocese.

Hula hoops, horseshoe tosses, sack races, limbo contests, face painting, rock climbing, slides and miniature golf kept the picnickers amused, while soft drinks, burgers and fries kept them energized.

But the real place to be, given the 90-plus-degree heat, was the pool.

“I’m holding off on getting my temporary tattoo until I’ve been in,” said 11-year-old Elijah Rivera, who attends the OST program at Holy Innocents Parish in Philadelphia.

His friend Armani Rodriguez had no such hesitation.

“I liked the water slide,” said Rodriguez, also 11 years old.

Jaddiel Reyes and Olivia Grover had a bounce in their step at a July 19 picnic hosted by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services for more than 600 children attending its Out of School Time program. (Sarah Webb)

The picnic had the feel of a family reunion, at which children and staff from various OST sites were excited to catch up with each other.

“We get to see some of the kids from the other sites where we’ve worked,” said Dee D’Aulerio, who currently oversees the Holy Innocents OST site at Holy Innocents, after working at the St. Gabriel’s Parish location. “We can see how much our former kids have grown up.”

The OST program’s youth and young adult staff also serve as role models for the children.

High school seniors Anna Nguyen and Samson Tedors assist at the St. Barnabas OST site through WorkReady, a Philadelphia Youth Network employment program that pairs teens with local jobs at partner organizations.

Nguyen and Tedors — who respectively attend West Catholic Preparatory High School and Neumann Goretti High School – keep a close eye on their students, while demonstrating how hard work and diligent study skills can pay off. After graduation, Nguyen is considering a degree at New York University, while Tedors is eyeing Temple University’s business program.

Neumann Goretti alumnus Anthony Newsome, who works at the Holy Innocents site, received a full scholarship to Villanova University, where he is pursuing a degree in business.

“This is a good job for learning how to handle a lot of responsibility,” said Newsome.

A similar sense of focus could be found among the 10 to 12 kids who opted to bypass the pool for the miniature golf course.

“Always concentrate on your own ball,” advised 11-year old Maheem Duppins of St. Malachy’s OST site.

Group leader Kevin Hartley, who has worked at St. Malachy’s OST site for more than a decade, said that golf was a “life lesson,” an intense exercise that made “jumping back in the pool that much sweeter.”

And splashing in the deep end would have been Jesus’ preferred picnic activity, said Sister Linh Tran, who is on a temporary mission assignment at the Holy Innocents OST site.

“Jesus became one of us,” said Sister Linh. “If he were here, he’d jump in the pool.”