As the residents of Athens, Georgia, learn how to navigate a world in the COVID-19 era, Clarke County Leisure Services is also learning how to adapt their programming to an evolving world.
Clarke County Leisure Service Parks and Facilities, besides Morton Theatre, are currently open to the public. In-person programs at leisure services facilities are operating through social distancing, limited capacity, mandatory mask-wearing and temperature checks at all facilities.
As listed in the “Covid-19 Policies and Procedures” section of the leisure service website, their facility and park hours are adjusted for staff to work in alternating schedules. No large groups or competitive events are permitted on their groups, including restricted use of their many unsupervised amenities.Why It’s Newsworthy: Though in-person programming has restarted, ACC Leisure Services is still providing virtual programming for those who do not feel comfortable engaging in person. Leisure services programming is an accessible outlet for Athenians of all ages to get engaged and remain stimulated, whether virtual or in-person, during COVID-19.
Cathy Padgett, the community relations specialist for ACC, said they had to adapt by creating new programming and making former programs virtual. As the leisure services department has begun transitioning to more in-person programming, they are learning how to make it more accessible in different formats.
“Now, staff can think in terms of in-person programming, but also in virtual programming,” said Padgett. “And how can we take successful programs and adapt them to online programs? Or maybe take online programs and have them in person.”
For in-person programming, leisure services are providing numerous activities for a range of age groups and price ranges. Programs, such as senior bingo, adult tai chi, children’s soccer, and a teen carton illustration club, are activities Athens residents can register for online. Prices range from free to $335, depending on the type of programming.
Leisure Services suspended all programming on March 30 with the inclusion of “all buildings, parks, trails, and open space parks,” per their website. The COVID-19 quarantine forced leisure services to go virtual, but it presented them with the opportunity to take their social media in a new direction, said Padgett.
Benefiting the Community
The Centers for Disease Control states on its website that being physically active is important to keep our body and mind healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In many areas, people can visit parks, trails, and open spaces as a way to relieve stress, get some fresh air, and stay active,” states the CDC website.
Athens is an area that offers those exact services. The Leisure Services parks include amenities such as miles of mountain bike trails, an outdoor zoo, nature, and paved trails for people to venture outside of the house in a safe way.
Tina Callaway, the Gymnastics Program specialist at Bishop Park, has noticed the benefit of her gymnastics students returning for in-person programming.
After leaving for spring break, Callaway’s students did not return to in-person gymnastics for seven months. Callaway and her instructors conducted gymnastic lessons over zoom. While teaching through zoom, Callaway described getting students to utilize household objects like sofa cushions, dog leashes, and chalk to aid them in their lessons so their parents wouldn’t have to buy expensive equipment.
The competitive gymnastic team started in-person practice the second week of August while recreational classes resumed the Tuesday after Labor Day. Now that Callaway is teaching students in person, she has noticed how the pandemic has impacted her student’s emotional and mental well-being.
They are dealing with things they have never had to deal with before because of Covid. Having gymnastics in their lives brings back something familiar, that is safe and something they can relax in,” said Callaway.
Callaway said she witnesses her students carrying a lot of anxiety and stress due to the impact COVID-19 has had on their lives. Whether experiencing a loss of a loved one or hearing about COVID-19 related deaths, Callaway has seen some of her students develop separation anxiety leaving their parents post quarantine.
The CDC website recommends keeping up with regular routines as a way to help children cope with the stresses of the pandemic.
With the Clarke County School District resuming in-person class for pre-K thru eighth-grade students on Nov. 9, Callaway said the students who have participated in Leisure Services programming will be more socially and emotionally equipped to go back.
“For children who have not participated in Gymnastics, they are going to wear some of that fear of ‘Can I Do This?’, but for the kids that have participated in an extracurricular activity, hopefully, they won’t have that,” said Callaway.
For the children able to participate in programming while Clarke County conducts virtual school, Callaway hopes it will help alleviate the fear students have of going out from their homes and integrating back into the school environment.
Scholarships that Serve
For those experiencing financial hardship during this time, the leisure service department provides scholarships that discount the rate of youth programs. The scholarship is a way to alleviate the financial burden of leisure service programming and eliminate access barriers for all interested participants.
The scholarship website states that each recipient could receive a total of $400 in scholarship funds each year. This money can go toward any youth programming, such as dance or swim lessons.
There are scholarships available at 25%, 50% and 75% of total costs. Requirements include that the applicant must reside in Athens-Clarke County, be under the age of 18, and meet the financial requirements. For more information on applying for the leisure service department scholarships, go to: https://www.accgov.com/scholarship.
Whether providing scholarships to in-person programming or hosting free virtual programming, ACC leisure services are creating a range of programs to appeal to a diverse range of participants in the midst of a pandemic.
Lillie Beck is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and
Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
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