This blog post was originally published on health.gov, and has been cross-posted here with permission.
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) recognizes National Youth Sports Strategy (NYSS) Champions for their commitment to supporting safe, fun, inclusive, developmentally appropriate, and accessible youth sports opportunities. This blog post is part of a series highlighting NYSS Champions that have found new and creative ways to engage their communities in physical activity and sports during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This post highlights how Tukwila Parks and Recreation kept community members active outdoors during the pandemic.
After the pandemic began in early 2020, Tukwila Parks and Recreation in Washington state knew they had to get creative to reach their community of about 20,000 people. With strict COVID-19 restrictions in place, in-person programming was virtually impossible — and on top of that, Tukwila Parks and Recreation had to let all of their part-time staff go. But this shift led to some positive changes in how the department interacts with the community.
“Our full-time staff has become very hands-on with the people we serve, and we’ve built some wonderful, positive relationships,” says Stephanie Gardner-Brown, Parks and Recreation Analyst at Tukwila Parks and Recreation. “And community members have told us what they want and how we can meet their needs.”
Meeting the Community Where They’re At
Tukwila Parks and Recreation’s first priority during the pandemic was to address community members’ basic needs — which meant making sure every family had food. The department began distributing meals at local parks and delivering meals to older adults at their homes.
The department also changed their fitness classes to a virtual format and began letting people borrow equipment (like weights, resistance bands, and exercise balls) for the virtual classes. Tukwila Parks and Recreation staff members dropped off “fitness packs” with exercise equipment for older adults who didn’t have transportation.
“We reached people we hadn’t reached previously, and we hope to build those relationships moving forward,” says Marlus Francis, Recreation Coordinator – Fitness & Athletics at Tukwila Parks and Recreation. “We definitely have a larger pool of residents that know we’re here and know we’re a resource for them.”
Preschool classes continued throughout the pandemic, with modifications. Photo courtesy of Tukwila Parks and Recreation.
Bringing Back Outdoor Activity
During the summer of 2020, Tukwila Parks and Recreation resumed some of their outdoor youth sports programming while following federal, state, and local COVID-19 guidance. They partnered with a local business to offer a safe sports camp for kids in the community. During the camp, kids played sports like basketball, soccer, and baseball.
Tukwila Parks and Recreation also started a program called Park n’ Play to encourage community members to get outdoors and get active. As part of the program, department staff used a mobile van to hand out “rec kits” to kids and their families in local parks every day during the summer.
The kits included things like jump ropes, soccer balls, tennis rackets, sidewalk chalk, and bubbles. The department provided meals and snacks with the kits, too.
Using the mobile van allowed department staff to set up in different parts of the community so that it was easier for community members to access the program. Department staff also promoted the Park n’ Play program in 6 languages to help make sure all community members knew about it.
By the end of the summer, the department had provided 13,496 rec kits through the program.
For summer 2021, Tukwila Parks and Recreation is running a similar program. They also plan to offer several summer sports camps like they did before the pandemic.
Adult fitness class, COVID-style (outdoors, physically distanced). Photo courtesy of Tukwila Parks and Recreation.
Reimagining Programming for the Future
Francis says the pandemic has given her team an opportunity to pause and rethink their programming to better meet the needs of their community.
“Specifically with youth sports, we’ve been thinking about whether what we’ve offered in the past is the right thing moving forward,” she says. “We’re considering if we should have other programs, and we’re making sure we’re offering equitable and inclusive opportunities.”
As part of these efforts, Tukwila Parks and Recreation and other local organizations are starting the Tukwila Sports Coalition so they can share resources and keep each other up-to-date on their activities. Their intention is to figure out who in their community they aren’t currently serving and also to avoid duplicating their efforts.
The department has also had a lot of success over the past year with a new program called Adopt-A-Spot, which lets people get active outdoors by taking care of an area in a local park. Participants pick up litter, weed flower beds, and remove invasive plant species.
“People are really starting to feel ownership over their local parks,” Gardner-Brown says, adding that many community members now send the department emails about things they notice that need to be fixed. “Their local park is very important to them and their neighborhood, and they want to see it taken care of so people can get out and play.”
Staff distributing free curbside meals for older adults. Photo courtesy of Tukwila Parks and Recreation.