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updated: 9/28/2011 3:28 PM

Carnival to benefit Wheaton parks program that helps those in need

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It could be said that a family's choices between recreation and necessities become easier as the economy stumbles. With limited resources, the importance of gym memberships and family pool passes pale in comparison to food and utilities.

But a program offered by the Wheaton Park District aims to make that choice unnecessary for some families. The Leisureship Program provides reduced fees and fee assistance to families who demonstrate financial hardship.

With a 22-percent spike in applications for the program this year alone, Director of Marketing Margie Wilhelmi said a newly created fall festival will help bolster the fund that pays for the scholarships.

"In the world today, with the economy as it is, it's important to reach out to families who are having a difficult time and help them take care of their own and their families when it comes to recreation," Wilhelmi said.

The inaugural Fall Carnival runs 4 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30; noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1; and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2, at the Community Center, 1777 S. Blanchard St., Wheaton.

The event will include rides, games, hay rides and a pumpkin sale as well as raffles and a visit from the Radio Disney Crew on Saturday afternoon. A small business expo will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.

A portion of the proceeds will go to the scholarship program, which has helped 96 families pay for swim lessons, summer camps, preschool and league sports this year. Families indicate which programs they want to receive help for when they apply for the scholarships.

Wilhelmi said the carnival also creates an attraction on a side of town that usually does not hold many events. With Taste of Wheaton drawing traffic downtown in the summer, some people contacted the district about bringing an event near Danada, Wilhelmi said.

But the main goal, she said, remains to raise money for the scholarship program.

"It's extremely important, especially for kids," Wilhelmi said. "Kids don't understand that parents are having financial difficulty. They want everything to remain as is."