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Park and Rec departments adapt to virus

By James Kinneen,
Hometown Weekly Reporter -

In the face of the coronavirus crisis, every government department is adapting in some way. But when your services are in large part based around bringing people together, you need to adapt even more. Such is the case for Sherborn Recreation and Dover Parks and Recreation, headed by Kristina Gallant and Mark Ghiloni, respectively, who have suddenly had to move more programming online and take a hard look at their programs’ futures.

In Sherborn, the Recreation Commission was in the middle of its winter programming when they first postponed it, then ultimately had to cancel it. While it is very much in doubt, the spring schedule is supposed to start in the first week of May. When it comes to whether that season is cancelled or not, the commission will utilize the school’s decision on opening or cancelling the rest of the year in determining how it will proceed.

“We will know after May 4 if the kids are in fact going back - and if they go back, we can run some of our programs. But if they don’t, then we will cancel,” Gallant explained. “So we’re kind of in a holding pattern with those. And then for summer, we’re planning them, but not taking any registrations until we know if we can actually run the programs - which, again, it may be June before we know definitely.”

In the face of this uncertainty, Sherborn has moved much of its programming online, doing things like using Zoom to conduct a virtual yoga class at a discounted price.

“We have a popular yoga program that has been running for years, that we run year-round. We’re doing three Zoom yoga classes, and that’s been great. We have two that are for recreation where any age can come, and then we have another gentle yoga program which is going to be geared towards the COA participants. The Zoom has been going great - this is our third or fourth week, and at least we feel like we’re offering something to the community. The price is cheaper than it would normally be in person, and slowly, we are getting new people who want to check it out because they want something to do. We had nine this morning, which is a good size for yoga; our average yoga class is usually between eight and ten, so we’re very happy with that.”

While Sherborn waits to see what is going to happen with school, Dover and Mark Ghiloni are waiting to see what the Board of Health declares. However, even if the school decision isn’t their end-all be-all, a lot of their summer programs may be impacted by whether schools open again or remain closed until the end of the year. 

“We follow the guidelines of the Dover Board of Health, in the end,” Ghiloni explained. “Our Parks and Recreation has always followed the Board of Health, so we’ll follow their guidelines on when we’ll be safe to open. Some of our summer programs do take place at the school, so they may be affected by whether the school opens or not.”

While Ghiloni noted how disappointed the town was to lose out on community events like the fishing derby and the egg hunt, like Sherborn’s, his department is putting many of their programs online during this trying time.

“On our social media, we’re offering some videos and opportunities to engage, whether it’s a workout video, or, we had a hip-hop dance teacher who did a video early on. We’ll have some basketball drills and soccer drills coming up. We have some trivia we’ll have in the next week or so. We started a story time on our social media, and then we have pictures, like, what are people doing during this time, how we’re dealing with it here in the office, and how we’re dealing with it at home with our families, so we’re increasing our content across social media to try and engage with the community.”

One bright side of the shutdown? For Dover Parks and Recreation, it is a time to sit back and look at what they’ve been doing, to see if it is the best way to serve the community.

“It’s definitely unique and unprecedented. Obviously, lots of hard decisions have been made on programs, annual events and outdoor facilities, but it’s an opportunity to analyze how to reach our community and serve their needs for recreation, self-care, and develop new ways to engage remotely with the community. It’s going to change programs going forward, even post-COVID-19, but we’re offering programs online, increasing our content on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We’re asking: ‘How do we add fun videos and graphics and provide families fun ways to stay active and engage with us through this crisis?’”

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