Bethlehem program offers respite for cooped-up kids in the age of the coronavirus | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children

The city of Bethlehem’s found a way to bring some socially-distanced fun to children in the city’s parks this summer.

It looked like the coronavirus might derail all of the Bethlehem Recreation Bureau plans this summer after the pandemic forced the closure of city pools and the cancellation of summer programs.

With word that the Lehigh Valley would move into the green phase of reopening in mid-June, recreation director Jodi Evans sprung into action, teaming up with the city health bureau and the Boys & Girls Club of Bethlehem to design a safe summer program.

Fun and Fitness launched Monday, July, 13 at Clearview Park with a rotation to different city parks each day, drawing kids eager to get out of their house and play.

“We are very excited to provide some mental and physical wellness,” Evans said.

Bethlehem Health Department and rec bureau workers were on hand to make sure they did it safely, wearing masks or keeping six feet of distance between children. The program adheres to all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

It’s not always an easy task, reminding small children to keep airplane arm’s distance apart, but the effort is worth it when you see the fun they have, Evans sad.

The free program runs for the next five weeks, ending Aug. 20. Participants must register online ahead of time here.

It is held 10 a.m. until noon starting Monday at Clearview and moving each day of the week to: L.G. Stewart, Yosko and Elmwood parks. The program is open to all ages, but children 9 and under must be accompanied by someone 14 years or older from their household. Enrollment caps at 20 children.

On Thursday, Elmwood Park drew children, who in a normal summer would’ve attended a Boys & Girl Club program, to do circuit exercises, scooter races and a dance party.

They were joined by officers from the Bethlehem Police Department and Boys & Girls Club Chief Executive Officer Winston Alozie, who all jumped on scooters for the races. They got a lesson on bike safety from the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation.

The Bethlehem Health Department always offers summer programming, it just had to get a bit creative this year, said Sherri Penchishen, director of chronic disease programs.

“This was a natural partnership,” she said of teaming up with the rec bureau.

The two bureaus pooled resources, equipment and ideas to adapt to coronavirus times. A traditional relay can’t be done with COVID-19, so they incorporated scooters, which could be swapped out and sanitized in between legs.

Normally, the Boys & Girls Club receives a stipend from the city to run a Yosko Park program that draws 150 children.

Its four summer programs typically serve 215 kids a summer, offering field trips and visits to city pools, Alozie said.

“A lot of that was thwarted this year,” he said.

The club is operating at 35% capacity with a small summer day camp and a drop-in program at Marvine Pembroke that routinely must turn kids away when it fills up.

Alozie was thrilled when Evans called him and suggested the program.

“When (Jodi) called me, I said yes, yes, I didn’t even let her finish her sentence,” Alozie said.

The majority of the kids at Elmwood Thursday would’ve been bused over to Yosko. Elmwood was strategically selected so kids could just walk from home, like they would to school, Evans said.

“Kids have been cooped up. We need to get kids physically active,” Penchishen said. “We don’t want them socially isolated.”

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Sara K. Satullo may be reached at ssatullo@lehighvalleylive.com.


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