Recreation and senior programs tweaked to adapt to pandemic

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published July 24, 2020

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Two community-oriented departments in Clinton Township are continually evolving in terms of offering residents the programs and services they have come to know and love.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a dent in numerous parts of society, extending to localized programming routinely offered by senior centers and parks and recreation.

After canceling its biggest program, day camp, as well as its annual fireworks event, the Clinton Township Parks and Recreation Department has pivoted to a different format: virtual.

Parks and Recreation Director Brian Kay touted the free “Play Where You Stay” program, aimed at kids ages 6 to 14. The hybrid program encourages families to sign up for different games, challenges and themed activities that are enjoyed in the comfort and convenience of their own homes.

Signing up is easy, and department officials provide instruction and interaction with enrollees.

“We realize that some of the families that we traditionally would have served this summer, we couldn’t meet in person, so we wanted to offer the resource to them,” Kay said.

Pickleball continues to be popular, quickly selling out after being announced for July. Residents can rent two paddles and balls from the department at daily and weekend rates.

Fitness classes have also moved outside to the Civic Center gazebo.

“We wanted to still be able to offer some items, but we had to kind of be careful where it lies,” Kay said, adding that tennis and pickleball were offered because they have some of the less stringent guidelines when it comes to in-person interaction.

Debbie Travis, program coordinator at the Clinton Township Senior Center, said that early on in the pandemic, seniors were interacting in different ways. She said that as the virus progressed, that type of programming just couldn’t continue. Many seniors pulled back.

“We’re driven by the needs of the seniors,” Travis said. “It was about giving them quality of life and engagement and physical fitness and ideas out of the box on how to successfully age.”

To adapt, seniors were offered different methods of interaction. One example was a parking lot party that occurred June 24, in a drive-thru setting where seniors picked up box lunches and health-related products, such as sanitizers and masks and other essential items. They were even able to pull into preassigned spaces and sit in lawn chairs and communicate while still social distancing.

Another parking lot party was scheduled for July 22, after press time, and another one is expected to take place in late August.

“Being outside is not my first choice for seniors,” Travis said, alluding to the sweltering summer heat. “We were just trying to fill that void for social engagement.”

The Senior Center has discovered other places to put energy, she said. That has included food distribution, resource information sharing, virtual meetings, walking groups and blood drives — of which there have been three drives in less than two months.

Seniors are getting help in areas like obtaining food staples, which became harder to obtain when many community pantries closed due to the pandemic. Some bus services, for things like shopping or doctor appointments, have become limited.  

Travis said “the struggle is getting (seniors) those basic needs.”

“It’s just about being sensitive to the pulse of the community right now, and the pulse is telling us we need to deliver things that are more essential to our seniors,” she said.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Many seniors are learning how to use Zoom or create their own Facebook accounts. They are being offered outdoor craft and ballet classes, and the garden behind the center is still a spot for produce growth and mental refuge.

“They are super optimistic,” Travis said. “They are walking the fine line, keeping themselves fine knowing they’re the most vulnerable population and still willing to engage.”

Kay said that has been the difference for his department, putting a focus and energy on reinventing programs. It’s about continuing to trend in the right direction, but not getting “too far ahead of ourselves.”

As of now, the Festival of the Senses is still on. Scheduled annually in September, Kay said the department wanted to guarantee it would break even on tent rentals and vendor fees. The department needs 50 vendors committed by a certain date. At press time, they were already close to that goal.

“I think a lot of it will be predicated in Phase 5, if and when we reach that,” he said.

Many artists who normally attend have expressed a “warm response,” Kay added.

“Some are more concerned than others,” he said. “A lot of them, it’s their livelihood, so they’re appreciative.”

For more information on programs or to sign up, visit https://clintontownship.com/recreation.html or https://clintontownship.com/seniors-center.html.

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