Farmington Parks and Recreation Dept. is offering online programming seven days a week. Staff member Griffin Conlogue studied film production in college and is seen editing videos at home. Submitted photo

FARMINGTON — Farmington Parks and Recreation Dept. Director Matt Foster feels more like a telephone network executive these days.

The Community Center closed on Monday, March 16, due to concerns about coronavirus.

“One nice thing we had here, we were able to get ahead of the ball,” Foster said. “I try to think of where things are headed next and plan for that. The week before I met with staff, said working remotely might be a possibility, asked where we were with that and if we would be set to go.

“Luckily we were able to get things squared away before we needed to. Things have been a smooth transition for us.”

Foster said some of his staff are University of Maine Farmington students who left to finish coursework from home. Others, from Massachusetts and Connecticut, were told it would be safer for them to stay in Farmington.

Foster considered trying online programming but wasn’t sure the department could do it.

“I thought about it over that weekend,” he said. “I mentioned it to my wife. She said, ‘You should try it.’ It went from me being busy enough as it was to all of a sudden becoming really busy.”

Foster’s assistant, Paris Baxter, left on maternity leave the end of February. He is completing work on his Master’s degree. The Fosters have four children, including a four month old baby.

He sent a message with his thoughts to his staff.

“My first concern was, ‘Is anyone even going to want to do this? Who wants to stand in front of a camera, acting silly.’ The thing I worried about the most was staff not being interested,” he said. “I got such a great response. Three or four got back to me right away, said they’d love to help, sounds great, that’d be such an awesome thing to do.

“That really encouraged me. Now we’re finding what people are good at.”

Joy Jancewicz is a Junior at the University of Maine at Farmington studying Elementary Education, International Studies, and Spanish. She loves cooking, baking, yoga and photography. She is doing things with those, Foster said.

UMF student Jessica Howes is the organizer. She has been making fliers, helping build schedules, getting things planned and organized. She’s been doing some videotaping as well, Foster said.

Jennifer is seen behind the camera during the taping of an exercise video for the Farmington Parks and Recreation Dept. Submitted photo

Jennifer Savage loves to run. A teacher at Smart Fun Learning Adventures in Farmington, she’s very good at arts and crafts. She’s been doing science experiments and coached the 5K program, Foster said.

Griffin and Zac Conlogue are the sports people.

“They play so many sports, know so much about every sport,” Foster said. “Griffin went to Emerson College for film production. He’s been making daily skill drills.

“Brooke Bolduc is doing exercise videos. She’ll be going to Merrimack College where she will be a Division I field hockey goalie, studying to be an exercise scientist.”

Foster said it’s been nice that people have been able to do what they like for work.

“There aren’t a lot of times people get to work with their interests,” he said. “It’s fun for them.”

Foster said originally the plan was to produce one thing every day. By the end of the week, he wasn’t satisfied and now is trying to post three things seven days a week.

The schedule of videos for the coming week is put on the department’s Facebook page on Sunday. Also included is a list of ingredients/items needed for baking/science experiments.

“By giving the details ahead, people will be prepared to do it right when we’re doing it,” Foster said.

He said Farmington is the only recreation department in the state doing online programming seven days a week. A few are starting, doing a few things here and there.

“We’re learning as we go,” Foster said. “Some things are really popular like Miss Sue’s dance program. Kids get in their living room, kitchen, and follow along with her dancing, having fun.

“That’s been a great fit. I’m trying to find different people to do what they normally do here. Sue Jones does our Christmas program. We were planning, getting ready for her Spring show, had to cancel it. Then I thought, ‘We don’t really have to cancel it.’

“I’m trying to be creative, think of ways to do things. It’s not always easy.”

Foster said other things are being offered such as scavenger hunts, challenges and other programs geared to get people moving and interested.

“It’s just as beneficial to our staff,” Foster said. “They’ve enjoyed it so much. It gives them something to do, to look forward to, helping others.

“When I first started doing this, the focus was on helping our community; that’s what we’re here for. I didn’t realize how much of an impact it would have on our staff, how good it would be for them.”

Mindful Minutes with clinical psychologist Susy Sanders gives tips on how to deal with what people are going through is another new program. Dr. Stephen Bien gave a video message about social distancing without being socially distant.

“I’m really proud,” Foster said. “They’ve been doing such great work. I really couldn’t do it without them.

“We’re getting great feedback from all over the state. Physical education teachers, other districts, recreation departments are reaching out, asking if they can share what we’re doing.

“We had almost 9,000 views in our second full week of online programming. People in Georgia, California. Someone from India is following us, sharing our stuff with is community. He has no connections with Farmington or Franklin County.”

Foster said there may be negatives as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“One of the priceless things coming out of this whole thing is family home life and connections with each other,” he said. “There may be a push to do more on localization, seeing how thin we’ve been spread out.

“It may help people prepare for the future. Gardening, paying off debt, purchasing from local farms.

“It might make us more self-sustainable, self-sufficient, not relying so much on others.”

Farmington’s Easter Jelly Bean Challenge

Farmington Parks and Recreation Director Matthew Foster said the Easter egg/golden egg hunt held in local parks isn’t possible this year because of COVID-19. Howes came up with the idea of a jelly bean competition.

“We went from there,” he said.

The department has partnered with Farmington Walmart to provide $250 in prizes for this Easter’s Jelly Bean Challenge that will be held Sunday, April 12.

“I spoke with Walmart’s Greg Patterson. They’ve donated a bunch of prizes, the department paid for some,” Foster said.

Foster said pictures showing what children can win will be posted on the department’s Facebook page. The challenge schedule is posted there.

Foster said no contact is needed for the contest. Winners can pick up their brand new item at Walmart.

“It will make some kid really happy,” he said.


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