June 25, 2024

Parks After Dark: A Free Summer Program Addresses Virginia Beach Youth Needs

Working with the community, City departments offer experiences for youth residents that strengthen connections

Parks After Dark attendees and police officers posing by volleyball net

Parks After Dark is a program run by the Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation (VBPR) Youth Opportunities Office (YOO). YOO is a unit within VBPR that provides public outreach and engagement, exclusively to Virginia Beach youth. Tiffany Cowell, VBPR Youth Opportunities coordinator, spearheaded the mission to get Parks After Dark started in Virginia Beach. Here’s her input on the success of the program.  

“This is awesome!” “Let’s get more pizza!” “HEY! Come join our team!” “Best Thursday night ever!” These are the kinds of sentiments you’ll hear from youth when entering Williams Farm Park on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening this summer. Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation is excited to bring back Parks After Dark after a successful first year in 2023, which welcomed more than 12,000 visitors to 28 events, creating a summer full of memories for all who visited. 

The Parks After Dark program consists of structured recreational activities that are free and open to the public. A typical evening at the park consists of music, live entertainment, board games, sports, food, yard games, and other outdoor activities to bring people out of their homes to have a good time and get to know their neighbors and their community.  

Parks After Dark: The Origin 

In 2022, Mayor Bobby Dyer and Vice Mayor Rosemary Wilson established a Youth Violence Prevention Task Force. VBPR staff had the opportunity to travel with members of the Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) to visit Los Angeles, California, and observe “Summer Night Lights,” a program with a history of positive community impacts and decreased violence, particularly for families and young people. After working with the local police department, staff realized the program could work in Virginia Beach. In February 2023, the program idea was presented to City Council. By June 2023, new staff members were hired for this specific endeavor, and Parks After Dark was launched at Williams Farm Park.

Parks After Dark activities: arts & crafts and face painting

Addressing Goals and Community Needs 

The biggest goal for Parks After Dark is to build community, specifically for youth and teens. When members of the community attend the event, we want them to feel welcomed and know they are an active part of the process. From the very beginning of planning the program, VBPR involved the local Bayside area in the planning of what it was going to look like for them. We partnered with schools to provide buses, so youth from across the busy street could cross safely. We want the public to know that they are welcome and to remind them that we are doing this activity not for them, but with them.  

Parks After Dark is a success thanks to the many City departments that come together to provide financial literacy, health services, library services and more. A key component of the program is the interaction and involvement with our police department. It is important for our community members to not just see VBPD police officers in an enforcement capacity, but as part of their community in the consistent, family-friendly environment. 

Measuring Success: SYEP  

Parks After Dark provides employment opportunities as well, incorporating participants of our Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) to run the series. VBPR specifically selects SYEP staff members who live in the Bayside community and employs them to lead the program at Williams Farm Park. Being able to financially empower the young people we are aiming to engage by hiring them as City of Virginia Beach employees, connecting them with a job coach, and allowing them to have hands-on involvement in how Parks After Dark is managed, is an extraordinary element of the program. SYEP participants at Parks After Dark do it allthe setup, breakdown, creation of games and activities – and they do a phenomenal job.

Two SYEP members and police officer smiling at the food station

Looking Ahead – Program Expansion 

The success of Parks After Dark is a testament to the power of collaboration and the importance of creating spaces where communities can come together. We are excited to expand the Parks After Dark program to the Green Run and College Park communities by 2025. The addition of two new programs will continue to help us bring together youth, police and community members in a spirit of fun and fellowship as Parks After Dark paves the way for a brighter, more connected future of Virginia Beach. 

Get Involved  

When this 10-week program comes to an end each summer, our work doesn’t stop. We continue to work in the community and work with community groups. We work to make a change and make a difference in the community where we are. Each specialist who is hired to cover Parks After Dark will work throughout the year to create programs, services and partnerships in that community that will help to facilitate positive results and positive outcomes for families and for youth.  

As we work to expand Parks After Dark to more communities around Virginia Beach, we are always looking for partnerships with community organizations. If you would like to donate to the Parks After Dark Program or if you are an interested food caterer, vendor or food truck, please contact TCowell@vbgov.com

About Parks After Dark 
The free Parks After Dark program is provided by Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation. The 10-week event series is held from 6-11 p.m. on most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from June 6 to Aug. 24 at Williams Farm Park. Parks After Dark first launched in 2023 to establish a safe space for fun, family-friendly activities during evening hours when fewer activities are available for youth and teens. The park program brings together a wide range of community groups and resources for attendees, including the Mayor's Youth Violence Prevention Task Force, local neighborhoods and civic leagues, Virginia Beach Public Library, Western Bayside Community United, Virginia Beach Police Department and Virginia Beach City Public Schools. Recreation center membership is not required to take part in Parks After Dark. Visitors will check-in at the Guest Services tent to receive a hand stamp and food voucher ticket (while supplies last). For full details of activities and vendors taking part each week, visit virginiabeach.gov/ParksAfterDark.

Contact Information

Parks & Recreation

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