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Coronavirus: Palm Coast, Volusia find innovative ways to keep residents engaged

News-Journal - 3/26/2020

To limit the spread of COVID-19, Palm Coast Parks & Recreation and Volusia County Public Library system are turning to social media to keep community members engaged.

The News-Journal is providing this important health information for free. Help support our journalism. SUBSCRIBE HERE.Following Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland's proclamation to stay at home, coupled with closing the parks and beaches Monday, it seems as though options are limited when it comes to family fun.

But that's not necessarily the case. When Palm Coast Parks & Recreation began canceling programs due to the coronavirus outbreak, officials decided to think outside the box.

The city department created Recreation for Kids via its Facebook page, which offers links to virtually tour museums, aquariums and zoos from all over the world.

"As park and recreational professionals, we're used to providing a service to our community," said Brittany McDermott, community recreation manager for the City of Palm Coast. "As we started canceling programs and shutting down our facilities we wanted to still reach out to the community in some way."

The department also created a YouTube channel filled with videos filmed at local facilities covering an array of topics -- everything from swim safety and line dancing to how to make pizza quesadillas.

The first virtual program aired March 16. Residents can check out the latest virtual programs through the Palm Coast Connect website.

"We saw a lot of the other park and recreational agencies in other cities and states starting to implement some of these virtual recreation ideas," McDermott said. "We were inspired by other communities. Also our own sense of wanting to reach out to our community."

When designing a creative approach to community engagement, Parks & Recreation teamed up with other departments.

"It's been a team effort," McDermott said. "Not just in our own department. We've had other departments in the city take interest in this. We had our communications and marketing department, fire department and our innovation department help out. Everybody is really excited about this."

According to McDermott, "There are a lot of ideas to work through. We don't want to put it all out at the same time. We're trying to work through our ideas to see how we should implement them.

"We're really trying to find things that you can do at your own home with stuff that you already have," said McDermott. "Obviously, we're all being encouraged to stay home as much as possible, only going out for the essentials. We're trying to come up with things that are easy to do from your own home, your own backyard and with items you already have."

Volusia County Public Library system decided to take advantage of social media as a means of providing educational and fun programs to its patrons.

"We always talked about pre-recording bedtime stories," said Karen Poulsen, activity project manager for the Volusia County Public Library. "We have a lot of publishers and authors who have agreed to let us read their stories, but the requirement is to do them live."

Helping parents stick to a normal routine can be challenging during such a chaotic time. According to Poulsen, attendance at different locations for story time ranges from 25 to 100, depending on time of day.

"I really like that I'm still doing my story time Wednesday at 10:30," said Carly Ries, children's librarian trainee, Volusia County Public Library. "I have kids who come on a weekly basis. I think it's really going to help parents keep as much of a normal routine as we used to offer them."

Families can join story time by tuning into Facebook Live, where viewers can interact. If parents miss an episode, they can tune in later in the day.

An added bonus with the new story time program is that patrons can request the books read during virtual reading time from the library catalog.

A select few library locations get to take turns rotating book titles.

The program went live Tuesday with Deltona Regional Library. The next scheduled Facebook Live story time will take place Thursday from Daytona Beach Regional Library. Next Tuesday's program will take place from Port Orange Regional Library, and the rotation starts again.

Patrons can check out scheduling information on the Volusia County Public Library Facebook page.

Both the staff and patrons are excited about the new virtual story time program.

"I'm really grateful the opportunity to still connect with with my younger patrons," said Ries. "Wednesdays are my favorite day at work. It flies by because I'm doing story time with the little kids. In the afternoon I have school aged kids coming in for a program."

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