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Art program at Sunset Hill offers fun for kids, parents

Painting brightly colored cats offered an artful respite for kids and caregivers Wednesday during one of the many programs offered at Sunset Hill Farm County Park.

“We love Miss Becky (Kreiger),” said Katie VanGilder, a stay-at-home mom who attended the class with her son, Elliott Popenhagen, 3.

The pair traveled from Hammond but VanGilder grew up in the Valparaiso area and attended Valparaiso University so was familiar with the programs.

“We like to get out of the house, and the fact that we can make messes here and have freedom with it, rather than on your own couch, is nice,” said Van Gilder.

Big & Little Art took place on Wednesday morning in the programs building and was put on by the Porter County Parks Department.

The class was taught by Becky Kreiger, recreation director for Porter County Parks since 2013, who has been teaching the parent and child class since 2019.

Katie VanGilder and her son, Elliott, of Hammond, begin their painting at Big & Little Art sponsored by the Porter County Parks Department on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Deena Lawley-Dixon/for Post-Tribune)
Katie VanGilder and her son, Elliott, of Hammond, begin their painting at Big & Little Art sponsored by the Porter County Parks Department on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Deena Lawley-Dixon/for Post-Tribune)

Kreiger was a Boone Grove High School graduate and was a teacher there before she started her career with the parks. She also has been the wellness coordinator for the park department, and has coached the adult Couch to Foot Pursuit 5K program since 2013, and the youth track and cross country programs since 2014.

“Teaching art and coaching is still my way of teaching, but in a different setting and atmosphere, all while sneaking in some gross and fine motor skill,” said Kreiger. “They make me laugh and I love every class.”

“I love being crafty and creative and making the project prototype for each month, and then doing the project with the class is also fun,” said Kreiger. “I love seeing their creativity each month.”

There will be more Big & Little Art every month, as well as a monthly youth art program. More information on the arts and wellness programs can be found on the Porter County Parks Facebook page or by contacting Kreiger directly at BKreiger@porterco.org.

“We do all the classes,” said Jackie Strainis of Valparaiso, who attended the class with her son, Maverick, 5, and daughter, Fiona, 2. “I’ve always been a stay-at-home mom, and there are so many activities here for them.”

Jackie Strainis and her son, Maverick, of Valparaiso, work on their drawing at the Big & Little class sponsored by the Porter County Parks Department on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Deena Lawley-Dixon/for Post-Tribune)
Jackie Strainis and her son, Maverick, of Valparaiso, work on their drawing at the Big & Little class sponsored by the Porter County Parks Department on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Deena Lawley-Dixon/for Post-Tribune)

“We come here (Sunset Hill) to meet the animals, and Maverick did a farm and garden hands class that was awesome,” said Strainis.

“Becky does really cute things,” said Strainis, noting that Maverick was wearing a tie-dye shirt that he made at one of her classes.

“We still have our fingerprint dandelions hanging in our playroom from another class we did here,” said Strainis.

Sunset Hill is one of the many parks operated by Porter County, which include Brincka Cross Gardens in Michigan City, Brookdale Park in Chesterton, and Dunn’s Bridge in Kouts.

Porter County Parks also offers adult art programs including watercolor, acrylic and oil painting, as well as photography. For more information, visit portercountyparks.org.

Deena Lawley-Dixon is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.


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