Coronavirus Could Not Steal all of the Summer FunOct 27, 2020 11:02AM ● By Susan Manning
Adapting to a global pandemic doesn’t mean restricting summer fun. The folks at the Natick Recreation And Parks Department found a way to keep some joy in the lives of some Natick residents.
One of its program — Skyline – has been around for decades, according to Karen Partanen, Director, Natick Recreation And Parks Department. Melissa Carter, who has been with the department for 19 years and started out as a volunteer when she was in highschool, is the adaptive program coordinator and runs the Skyline program
“It is adaptive programming for individuals with special needs. They participate to gain independence as well as work on social skills or fundamentals of a skill. The programming has been running for decades and has evolved over time but is really popular with our teens and adults,” she said.
Partanen said her team worked hard to adapt to the new normal under COVID-19, as easily as possible for these individuals.
“Along with the rest of the world we are working hard to create ways to stay in touch with our participants and think creatively to come up with ways to reach people at home. What is it that we all are looking for in this time of need? Some type of normalcy. So we brought back our very popular Coffee House, which is karaoke, and turned it virtual. The first one went amazing and everyone (including the staff) signed off with a full heart and huge dose of fun! So we are trying to adjust our already popular programming and make it virtual,” she said.
The ever-popular Coffee House, however, is not the only program that the department was able to bring back safely.
“We started off with taking to the internet and doing free Storytime and free fitness classes. We had people from around town stopping our employees on walks to ask them if they read for the Recreation Department because they recognized their voice.
“As summer approached we were trying to figure out how to make in person programming work. Our Skyline Summer program is mainly Camp Arrowhead and we knew we couldn’t have our typical Camp programming. In a typical summer, campers age 5 and up go to our Camp Arrowhead site and enjoy a typical summer camp experience. We train high school aged volunteers to be 1:1 with participants throughout the camp day. This summer we adapted to have parents become the 1:1 since we could not have volunteers assist hands on.
“We took the volunteers to a virtual program and we had about 35 dedicated volunteers spend an afternoon online hanging out with our participants and volunteer coordinator. The program went great. Our participants grew so close to the few who were able to work or volunteer in the programming. It was definitely a different summer however it was still fun and social!” she said.
The importance of making their programming accessible despite the pandemic was not lost on the department or the families.
“I have parents telling me their kids are going to be talking about the program they just participated in for days or weeks! Doesn’t matter what the program is that the individual participates in, it is typically followed up with a huge thank you and that is how we know we are doing something very important. It is important for our participants, but also for their family to be able to see them thrive even in the world the way it is right now,” Partanen said.
Programming for special needs individuals through the Natick Recreation And Parks Department is open to anyone interested.
“We feel everyone deserves a chance to experience a welcoming group,” said Partanen.