Students play party planners at St. Paul gym

The parties are part of the department of recreation’s community outreach.

by Allison Wickler

While many University-employed students look forward to catching up on their homework while monitoring a desk during a work shift, one group of such students always has to be on their toes.

On weekends for the past eight years, students have coordinated kids’ birthday parties at the St. Paul Gymnasium as a part of the Department of Recreational Sports’ youth and community programs.

Between eight and 10 student birthday-party hosts take kids through rock climbing, swimming and general party activities during two or three hour birthday parties, said youth and community programs director Todd Tratz.

The students handle nearly the entire process after the reservation is made, from pre-party logistics to running party games – even swimming during pool time, he said.

As the program’s student coordinator, family social science junior Aaron Haynes said one of his jobs is training new birthday-party hosts.

Haynes said students train to belay on the climbing wall, learn safety manuals and must be certified in first aid and CPR. They also have to shadow the current staff during a party before they start.

He said while the people who really enjoy the job do stay on, there is a high turnover because it’s tough to get to the location.

Japanese first year student and birthday-party host Katie Marvin said she applied for the job because, like most of the employees, she likes working with children.

“It’s not boring, ever,” she said.

After working as a group leader for the University’s summer youth programs, Haynes said he thought the party host opportunity would be an active job and also fit with his major.

Haynes said the parties, which start at $140, can be hectic and sometimes funny, especially like last Saturday’s party, which hosted 20 8-year-olds.

“Sometimes kids try to get their parents to climb,” he said of the easily excited partiers.

But things aren’t always fun and games.

“Every once in a while you get a bad group,” said recreation, park, and leisure studies junior Gretchen Haselbauer. “I’ve had a couple birthday kids cry.”

As a college student, being responsible for children while their parents observe can be tricky, Marvin said.

“It’s hard to have parents there and not be too bossy,” she said.

But parents are generally receptive toward a college student staff, Haselbauer said, and are often surprised at the students’ ability and willingness to help out.

Party-goers, like 8-year-old birthday boy David Kunau, also seem to like the opportunity.

“It’s a little cool because I don’t actually go places for birthday parties,” Kunau said.

But do the students ever wish they could have more low-key jobs?

“I kind of do,” Marvin said, but being active with the kids is ultimately a rewarding experience.

“And you get cake too,” she said. “That’s really awesome.”