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Park & Rec moves online

By James Kinneen,
Hometown Weekly Reporter -

With most Americans' current recreation plans eliminating gatherings with people outside of their homes, local park and recreation departments are finding themselves in the precarious position of needing to provide content while maintaining social distancing and ensuring community safety. 

Needham is no different, with Park & Recreation moving to an increased online presence because of the coronavirus crisis.

“Typically, the spring is the start of our busy season,” Park & Recreation director Stacey Mulroy explained. “We are programming, planning curriculum, ordering supplies and hiring staff for the upcoming summer season. With the uncertainty due to the pandemic, we have had to hold off on much of the pre-season preparations.”

One of the new transitions at this difficult time has been to offer more online programming, like “Chalk Your Walk,” where kids drew messages on their driveways, and Shine On Needham, where homeowners were encouraged to decorate their homes in holiday lights for people driving by to see. 

“So far, we have run a few programs through our social media sites. Shine On Needham, Chalk Your Walk and our virtual egg hunt were well received by the community. Thanks to the entire Park & Rec team, we were able to begin offering virtual programs within the first week. They are continuing to come up with new and exciting ideas to roll out to the residents of Needham. Coming up this week is our Earth Day/Week Clean Up.”

The Earth Day clean up is an interesting change. On April 19, residents were encouraged to go the Rosemary Recreation Complex, and pick up supplies and information about how to arrange their trash. Families would then pick up trash around their neighborhoods, and contact DPW about where their bags were located sometime before April 25. After the trash is picked up, Park & Rec will then tell you how many ponds of trash you collected.

Will these changes last past the current crisis? Well, because there's a sense that a coronavirus crisis could still spring back up again later, the department is focusing on continuing to move things virtually. 

“Park & Rec is a very social industry. We like to plan events and programming to keep our community connected. Our department will continue to work to be prepared with virtual programs in case any other prolonged closings occur again in the future. We always have safety as our ultimate goal. We plan and train for all kinds of situations to keep our participants safe and happy. We need to respond to this type of situation in the same way with the right kind of programming and outreach to keep our community members feeling safe, informed and connected. We will continue to use our social media platforms and Zoom software to keep the community safe and engaged.”

As to the future, Mulroy wasn’t willing to speculate on what kind of programs might be safer bets to happen than others. Instead, she only noted that it will be a thoughtful, well-researched decision. 

“Ultimately it is a collaborative decision and we are already having numerous conversations about the future,” she explained. “First, we will wait for additional guidelines from the governor. We have an amazing EOC team and will continue to check in with them as we monitor this pandemic.”

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