It’s a time of year when communities and their parks and recreation departments typically celebrate large festivals, have outdoor concerts and movies, and anxiously await the opening pitch of our nation’s pastime. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. No events, no group gatherings, no playgrounds, and families have been told to stay at home. With this challenge, municipal recreation departments are coming up with innovative solutions to keep their communities healthy, active, engaged and connected. Online recreation is the new norm of play.
With an understanding of the value of serving as a community resource for play, the Whitemarsh Township Parks and Recreation Department in Pennsylvania immediately identified the necessary shift from traditional municipal recreation, to establishing themselves as a vital life raft for families as they navigate unfamiliar waters. Harnessing the power and opportunities of the internet became the focus. The initial step was the release of our “In-Home Recreation Resources” webpage. This new tool provides a compilation of well over 100 resources, with sections that include:
- Arts, crafts and education
- Charitable actions
- Environment and nature
- Health and wellness
- Movement and exercise
- Performing arts
- Virtual field trips for people of all ages, interests, and abilities
The need and creativity did not stop there. Our department has a daily activity outreach to the community every morning on Instagram. A Facebook post greets residents each Monday with a “We Are Whitemarsh” contest — the winner is announced every Sunday and receives free movie tickets and a pizza donated from Tonelli’s Pizzeria. To support local small businesses, we have coordinated “Take-Out Tuesdays” with parks and recreation specials at local restaurants — the full list is on the website. Our outreach continues every Wednesday with the Senior Scoop e-newsletter, which is filled with activities and resources to keep our older adults engaged. On Friday nights, a dance party is held via Zoom for all children in the community. The weekend brings our Virtual Escape Trip for the couple or family that wants to get away without leaving the safety and comfort of their living room and features virtual park tours, wildlife cams and more.
Further in-home play innovations have included webinars with virtual programs for fitness, the environment, children and adults with special needs, pet training, magic shows and more.
The COVID-19 pandemic has kept the people inside but has also presented park and recreation agencies the opportunity to once again serve their communities in a new way with creative and resourceful in-home play solutions.
For more information, visit the Whitemarsh Township Parks and Recreation Department In-Home Recreation Resources webpage.
For more information about NRPA’s response to COVID-19, as well as available resources for park and recreation professionals, please see our Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) webpage.
Thomas J. Blomstrom is the Director of Whitemarsh Township Parks and Recreation Department.