The Illinois Association of Park Districts (IAPD) recently announced the Bloomingdale Park District as winner of the Power of the Parks Award. The District will be honored virtually at the IAPD Best of the Best Awards November 12.
The Power of the Parks Award is intended to recognize an IAPD member park district, forest preserve, conservation, recreation or special recreation agency that displayed innovative and insightful ways to pivot their programs, events and services to best meet the needs of their residents in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many park districts, Bloomingdale Park District reinvented itself during the pandemic. Unlike most districts, the BPD managed to do so through a change in leadership. The departure of an executive director could have crushed any remaining staff motivation and morale that escaped the onslaught of the novel coronavirus; instead, staff found strength through the steadfast leadership of their interim executive director, board of commissioners, and new executive director.
Inspired by a Board that encouraged them to be creative with COVID programming, try new things, and be unafraid to fail, the recreation department worked tirelessly from home, researching and collaborating with coworkers and colleagues from other districts to develop new programs as well as transform many existing programs.
One such makeover was the See-A-Truck event, formerly Touch-A-Truck, which featured garbage trucks, tractors, police cars, fire trucks and a variety of other vehicles on display in Springfield Park. Cars drove slowly through and re-entered as time permitted. In early celebration of Father's Day, the first 50 fathers to arrive at the event received a bonus gift bag filled with goodies.
Likewise, the Mother’s Day drive-thru event, SuperMOM Day, was a huge success, capping out at 100 registrations. Via curbside pickup, moms received a goody bag containing a flower, do-it-yourself crafts, and a fresh-baked cookie.
Additional drive-thru experiences included the preschool graduation, recreated into a drive-by parade and photo opportunity for graduates with, but socially distant from, their teacher. Gymnasts graduating high school were also treated to a celebratory car parade complete with photo ops, gifts, and spirited horn honking.
The car theme continued in a trio of drive-in movies featuring Aladdin, The Rookie, and Secret Life of Pets 2. A Host Your Own Drive-In Movie Challenge was promoted through social media, calling for children to design a car out of cardboard or other item, enjoy their favorite flick from inside their creation, and post their picture and movie choice on the Facebook thread. Terror-ific Drive, a drive-thru haunted house, is also in the works for Halloween.
Residents have been continually engaged through virtual programming via Zoom or Facebook Live. Especially popular was the Cooking with Camille video series that guided little chefs in making chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, lemon pasta, and pigs in a blanket.
Other virtual programs included:
- Hatha and Restorative Yoga
- Kid Rock
- Gems & Crystals
- Balloon Art
- Line Dancing
- Klub Friday Night gatherings for teens and tweens
- Zumba and Zumba Gold
- Goality youth fitness classes
- Tai Chi
- Hot Shots Sports classes (Sports and More, Baseball 101, Pee Wee Soccer, Soccer 101, Lil’ Dribblers, Basketball Ball Handling and Footwork Basketball Skills, Volleyball Skills, Gym Class, and Fitness Speed & Agility)
- Lunchtime Funtime
- And Family Fun Picnics
As the State opened back up, staff pivoted to offer re-entry into the B-Fit Center as well as access to outdoor fitness classes, personal training, gymnastics classes, playgrounds, and basketball and tennis courts.
The Adventure Island Sprayground was opened for rentals. Many patrons were eager to safely resume martial arts classes. The District collaborated with the Bloomingdale Parks Foundation to conduct a Food Drive in August to benefit Bloomingdale Food Pantry, resulting in approximately 1,000 pounds of donated food.
Scores of social media posts and e-blasts invited at-home participation in scavenger hunts, coloring contests, fitness activities, bike ride challenge, magic tricks, word searches, Garden Club blogs, and storytimes with preschool staff. Children with birthdays were highlighted on Facebook and entered into a raffle for a birthday basket. The At-Home Cooking Challenge and the Patriotic Porch Decorating Contest were very well received.
The District’s website featured the newly developed BPD 4 You! web page, an at a-home activity center section listing an abundance of activities, stories, workouts, crafting videos and more.
The Student Art Show, normally open to the public at the District’s Museum, became the Virtual Art Show. Parents were especially grateful to have this option. Art Camp was held socially distant and in masks.
Summer Camp took on a whole new light. The newly-named Camp Escape was created to incorporate small group sizes and social/physical distancing requirements. Crafts, cooking, sports, science experiments, special events, fitness classes, hikes, and on-location field trips were restructured to make the summer unforgettable.
Camp on the Go – a weekly bag filled with a craft, outdoor activity, active movement, recipe, science experiment, and a surprise – was a well-received option to in-person camp.
To say the staff did an outstanding job creating and implementing new ways to serve the needs public in a pandemic is an understatement. What they achieved, and continue to achieve, is nothing short of amazing.