By Max Bowenemail@example.com
Though masks and social distancing have led to a very different kind of summer, the many programs for children have seen a good turnout.
Steve Carvalho, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said the timing of the closure of town offices was somewhat fortuitous, since the winter programs had just ended and those for spring had yet to begin. Much of the summer activities began at the end of June, when Phase 3 of the state’s re-opening plan took effect.
“It was detrimental, but it would have been devastating,” he said. “It’s a lot more difficult to pull the plug.”
Dan Brannock is the associate vice-president of operations for the Hockomock YMCA. When the branches re-opened to the public, a conservative approach was taken and programs were limited to those that could be run effectively with the restrictions. Swim lessons and sports were not held, but summer camps have started, and field trips and travel camps are being run—with limits on the number of participants.
“We knew we could do outdoor group exercise. People come in and work out,” said Brannock. “Quite honestly, we couldn’t do it without the local boards of health. They’ve been extremely supportive.”
Brannock said YMCA membership has dropped by approximately 50 percent, but those remaining are doing more than using the gym or daytime activities. During the pandemic, the Y offered emergency childcare as well as a food program that served 125,000 meals and handed out 10,000 bags of food. Those members that continued to pay their dues helped support these outreach efforts.
“It’s allowed us to continue this mission work,” said Brannock. “People think we’re a place to work out. It’s also an organization that supports the community in many different ways.”
Carvalho said there have been many modifications to the summer activities, in keeping with the state guidelines. He credited the town on doing a good job getting information out to the pubic, whether it was through the Coronavirus section of the town web site or the North Nurses Line. Staffed by school nurses, they offered contact tracing and stayed in touch with residents who tested positive for the virus.
“We were getting a lot of calls, but we were lucky that the town got ahead of that,” he said. “They put people in places to get answers to questions.”
The department has made a number of new hires whose sole job is the regular cleaning of the facilities, including the WWI Memorial Pool, which opened on July 1. Markers have been placed to keep the children more socially distant, and the staff wear masks at all times.
Carvalho said the summer camp has been running, though the number of signups has been reduced from 250 to 80, and some have been turned away due to limited space. In a given week, the program used to see 1,200 children, but with the changes, this has dropped to approximately 1,000. Carvalho said his staff was adamant about having summer camp, recognizing the importance to parents that their children have something to do in the summer. Field trips have been canceled, and in their place are more arts, crafts, and games.
“It’s important for the kids, we need to give them some type of normalcy,” said Carvalho. “The team has and continues to do a great job.”