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Wellesley Recreation stuck playing waiting game

By James Kinneen,
Hometown Weekly Reporter -

When local families are looking for something to do, Wellesley Recreation has traditionally been a go-to resource. However, because of the coronavirus, the department has had to adapt and change in the face of the new rules on social distancing and an increased need to think about community safety.

Unfortunately, that has meant that the entire spring session of programming has been cancelled, which has been devastating for kids. “It’s been tough," explained Director Matt Chin. "I mean, we cancelled our entire spring session. Usually, we have over 1,000 people that do programs with us in the spring; it is a busy season. Soccer is huge, lacrosse obviously is big - really, everything that’s outside. Financially, it’s been tough because it usually generates anywhere from $250,000 to $350,000 dollars in revenue. So, it’s been a very interesting time to be in this field.”

Why cancel the spring session when it is still unclear if schools are going to reopen in May? According to Chin, it wouldn’t be a huge issue getting things going again, if given the opportunity - so it wasn’t a huge deal.

“The main reason being is just the uncertainty. They stated the end of April, then it was pushed to May 4, so if things change, we can easily ramp programs back up, call instructors, and we can get an abbreviated season going. The instructors want to work. A lot of the people that do the programs, our instructors, this is their full-time job, as well. So, if someone was like: ‘Hey, we’re going to open - you can do business as usual starting on X date,' I’m sure we could pull people together.”

While Chin noted how upset kids are about missing out on things like soccer with James Bede, cooking with Diane Benson, and the annual Spring Thaw egg hunt, Wellesley Recreation is still trying to come up with different ways to keep people involved. For example, while the Spring Thaw was cancelled, Chin was able to replace it with a home bunny visit.

“We ended up doing bunny visits. So, we had a registration for about forty homes, and we had our bunny, and we drove around delivering eggs and gave a few waves from the street for forty households, last Saturday.”

Another thing Recreation has done, knowing people can’t leave their homes, is increase the amount of programming it offers online.

“We have a webpage we created. It’s its own separate page, and there are well over 20 virtual programs and activities on there that families, adults and kids can go to. When all this happened, we reached out to our instructors and asked them if they wanted to start creating virtual content to send to us, and we’re very lucky that we have great instructors. Most are free; some require some payment. We worked with the youth commission, who made a generous donation for us to be able to offset some of the instructor costs and allow us to offer a lot of this programming for free to residents.”

As for the summer programs, the questions remain: will any programs will take place, and if they do, how will they differ from in years past? Will the increased time at home lead to a boom of Recreation participants? Will people be hesitant to gather in any groups?

“I think, going forward, it is always going to be a consideration now. Without a question. Just like it is with our own daily lives. I mean, I think summer camps are an issue that are at the forefront if social distancing is still in place. As school is over and we move towards summer, you cannot have sixty kids in a summer camp and have social distancing still be part of your daily life. You can’t take a hundred kids on a bus to a field trip. Number one, will a water park even be open? And two, are you going to have to socially distance the kids on a bus, so now you’re looking at putting one kid in every other seat, and instead of taking one bus, you’re taking ten.”

When asked whether that would mean a price hike for something like the camps, Chin shot the idea down, instead arguing that they’d just do something else.

“I would hope not. I mean, I would think maybe we don’t go on field trips, we just do something else. But again, we’re going to have to wait. That’s been the hardest part, the waiting game.”

Unfortunately, right now, that’s the only game in town.

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