A Minnesota nonprofit put bullying on blast Sunday.
A fun family event with toy blaster guns firing soft foam balls and darts gave parents a chance to step on the field and get on their kids’ level. The event was held inside Rochester Regional Stadium.
Taking aim with a toy gun to address bullying might seem counterintuitive to fighting bullies, but the more neighbors and families get together, the more they understand each other, said Matt Nelson, co-founder of the nonprofit, Project My Neighborhood.
Dozens of families attended the event. Thousands of rounds of foam balls and darts were launched in the dome in a variety of games and competitions.
For Jamell Owens and two of his sons, the blaster battle was a relief from cabin fever after an April snow storm. Owens grew up without a father. That absence gave him an idea of what he would give his own kids someday.
Today a father of five, he took to the soccer (battle) field with two of his sons.
“I vowed I would be the best father I could be,” he said. “That means being involved with them.”
Owens says he invites his kids into the garage when he’s working on cars and teaches them about tools and safety.
He’s also quick to join them in games they enjoy.
“You’re never too old to have fun,” he said as he led a raiding party of kids — including two of his sons — to capture the blue team’s flag.
Rodelle Nataniel, who was on the blue team opposite Owens for capture the flag Sunday, had a similar idea. He brought his high-capacity foam ball blaster from home.
“A mother or a father needs to be kids with their kids,” Nathaniel said.
A father of four boys, Nathaniel said the event Sunday is exactly the kind of activity he looks for when he’s not at work and they’re not in school.
“When I have my free time, me and my kids are going out,” he said.
The event was a fundraiser for Project My Neighborhood, a nonprofit that builds communities through neighborhood events and works to stop bullying. Getting parents to let loose was another goal of the Sunday blaster event.
“We encourage them to realize they don’t have to just be the authority in their kids’ lives,” said Michael Needs, Project My Neighborhood volunteer.
Michelle Scarf joined the action — in part to reassure her hesitant daughter, Ruthie Scarf, 4, and in part for herself.
“It’s always nice to remember what it’s like to be a kid,” she said.
Kelly Haack sat out as her son Alex Eaton participated.
“I’m pretty good with the machine gun — when it doesn’t jam,” Eaton said.
A mother of four, Haack said the brothers were busy entertaining themselves and with their friends. Seeing peers at events like this builds camaraderie and helps prevent bullying or kids being left out. Her sons saw many familiar faces Sunday.
“They know a lot of these kids,” she said.
On May 18, Project My Neighbors has the Guinness Book of World Records in its foam projectile crosshairs. The group plans to host the world’s largest toy battle at the HealthEast Sports Center in Woodbury from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets for that event can be purchased on Project My Neighbors’ Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Projectmyneighborhood.