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An obstacle course, a bouncy house, soccer, basketball, bingo, movies, music, grilled hot dogs, pizza, chips and $300 worth of ice cream lured hundreds of people of all ages to Mason Park on Friday night, many of whom were wearing orange to call attention to Gun Violence Awareness Day.

It was the official launch of Evanston’s My City, Your City, Our City initiative, held in tandem with the summer’s inaugural First Friday event. Everywhere one looked, there were smiles.

Young women play on a park bench at First Friday in Mason Park. Credit: Richard Cahan

Maybe it was the beautiful weather, the approaching end of the public school year, being outside or hanging with friends and loved ones. There didn’t need to be a reason; it just felt good. If “happiness” and “community” merged, it would look and feel like Mason Park on Friday.

The Cannady and Johnson families enjoy Friday festivities in Mason Park. From left: Madison Cannady, O’Niel Johnson Jr., Amethyst Cannady (holding puppy Hamilton), Brad Cannady, O’Niel Johnson Sr. and Ebony Johnson, holding three-month-old Ella. Credit: Wendi Kromash

The Cannady and Johnson families were enjoying a picnic together. Both had new additions to their family: the Cannadys brought home Hamilton, a multicolored dachshund last week, while the Johnson family welcomed beautiful baby Ella, three months old. She slept soundly, nestled in her momma’s arms. Toddlers Madison Cannady and O’Niel Johnson Jr. were more than happy to announce their names.

From left: Mayor Daniel Bliss; Sherria Lois Wedlow; Rebecca Cacayuran of the Evanston Community Foundation; Audrey Thompson, Director of Parks & Recreation; and Rick Marsh, interim Executive Director and Board President of Curt’s Cafe. Credit: Wendi Kromash

Mayor Daniel Biss stopped by to say hello, even though his associate mentioned that it was also his wedding anniversary. But he wanted to be at Mason Park to support My City, Your City, Our City.  

Mason Park fills with people at the start of First Friday on Friday night. Credit: Richard Cahan

Older kids laughed and teased one another while playing soccer and basketball. Younger kids eagerly stood in line, giddily waiting their turns to run, climb and slide through the bouncy obstacle course.

Parents chatted and cajoled cranky toddlers while waiting to go in the bouncy house. Families were munching picnics on the lawn, many small hands and faces sticky with traces of ice cream. 

Free hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza and other food were on the menu at First Friday in Mason Park. Credit: Richard Cahan

Audrey Thompson, Evanston’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, was there chatting with everyone. She greeted, hugged, high-fived, complimented, asked about and answered questions from so many people one right after the other that it was like watching a juggler.

Thompson said there were about 30 teens working at the park Friday evening, evenly split between the community maintenance team and the youth advisory committee. 

She said every new employee must complete two workshops: How to recognize and prevent sexual harassment and grooming, presented by the Child Advocacy Center; and a suicide prevention class presented by the Naomi Ruth Cohen Foundation that deals with suicide prevention. As of this week, Thompson, said 130 youth have attended the first workshop.

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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