More than being a “friend,” Kids Unlimited has helped to hone the focus of Medford Parks, Recreation and Facilities.

That’s how Rich Rosenthal, department director, described the relationship that led to KU’s recent acknowledgement as a “Friend of Medford Parks and Recreation.” Medford City Council and Mayor Randy Sparacino bestowed the award, accepted Thursday on behalf of KU by Director of Educational Services Lupita Vargas.

Lupita Vargas, left, Kids Unlimited Director of Educational Services, accepts a city award from Medford Mayor Randy Sparacino.

“In my opinion, (it’s) long overdue,” said Rosenthal of the 19th annual award presented to KU, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

In its early years, the nonprofit relied more heavily on city parks and other facilities for its programming. But strong partnerships continue between KU and the city, including low-cost swimming lessons at Jackson Pool.

“As a KU kid, one of my favorite field trips was going to Bear Creek Park,” said Vargas. “I still remember the wooden playground that felt like a huge magical castle. My friends and I would play the best games of freeze tag.”

“We’ve had a lot of interactions with Tom (Cole) and Kids Unlimited over the years,” said Rosenthal. “Their mission is consistent with ours.”

But sometimes the missions were best served when the City stepped aside so KU could do what it does best, said Rosenthal. Specifically, KU’s afterschool programs have been so well-received and effective that Medford Parks and Rec avoided developing similar programs that would duplicate efforts and services, he said.

“Sometimes the best thing we can do is make sure Tom has the bandwidth to accomplish what he wants to accomplish,” said Rosenthal of KU’s founder and executive director.

“We are honored by the recognition,” said Cole. “The City of Medford parks department has provided some great experiences for our kids and families over the decades, and we are truly grateful for their partnership and commitment to our kids.”

Other youth organizations that previously received the award include Logos Public Charter School, Kid Time Children’s Museum, Rogue Valley BMX, Spartan Boxing and others. The Council also designated as Parks and Rec “friends”: Jim Hutchins for lifetime service, Dr. Alan Frierson for his work in Prescott Park, youth soccer coaches Jorge Ruiz, Marco Cortez and Eduardo “Lalo” Ibarra and business sponsor Jamba/Auntie Anne’s.

Parks and Rec commissioners vote on the award recipients. Nominations come from various city staff and managers.