Fairview and Wood Village teamed up nearly four years ago to create PlayEast! – a recreation program for kids and teens. PlayEast! is government at its best. City leaders saw a need and got creative with money and facilities and people. Fairview and Wood Village staff and city councilors not only worked together, but also with Reynolds School District employees and local churches and businesses to expand sports and arts programs into school and church facilities, with businesses like First Community Credit Union providing financial support.
By thinking differently, and working with the community, government gave our children the essential gift of play. Since it launched in 2017, PlayEast! has served nearly 2,500 kids aged 3 to 18 (and even some adults) by offering soccer, basketball, golf, flag football, and yoga along with art and piano lessons after school and on weekends. The program also runs popular summer camps in city parks and on school grounds.
What’s more, PlayEast! is accessible. The program manager, Fairview employee and Wood Village city councilor Jairo Rios-Campos, is a native Spanish speaker and ensures that forms and other program communication are translated for families who need it. According to the 2010 census, 13 percent of Fairview residents and 53 percent of Wood Village residents identify as Hispanic – a number that will surely grow when new 2020 census data is in.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has not been kind to PlayEast!
At a presentation to the Fairview City Council this week, Jairo shared data that reflects the terrible truth in America: the pandemic has been devastating. The number of registered participants in PlayEast! programs dropped from 480 in the 2019-2020 fiscal year to 84 in the current 2020-2021 fiscal year. The budget is also taking a huge hit. Registration revenue dropped from $12,682 in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, to $5,277 so far in the current fiscal year.
When I spoke with Jairo by phone about the impact of COVID on PlayEast!, he said: “Because of all the restrictions, it’s like starting from scratch. The momentum we had – such great velocity – has been lost. It’s like starting again.”
It’s easy to see the challenges: With social distancing, sanitation and ventilation guidelines, and other state restrictions to follow to keep kids healthy, it’s tough to run recreation programs right now. Schools facilities are closed, cutting the program off from both participants and facilities. And families are hurting financially; There isn’t a lot of extra money available to pay for sports or art or piano lessons.
But Jairo hasn’t let COVID get him down. Through PlayEast! he has distributed face masks and hand sanitizer to dozens of families – even arts and crafts kits for kids to use at home. And he’s planning a full complement of spring programs as well as summer camps, which will be held at Donald Robertson Park, Wood Village Baptist Church, and Fairview Community Center.
I am proud to have donated, and I am rooting for spring. Sunshine will help make it easier for PlayEast! to get our kids back outside to play. It’s been a long winter.