Residents may explore more than 100 free classes through Westerville's Virtual Recreation Center, with topics ranging from a watercolor tutorials to "How to Help Manage Stress during COVID-19."

Mike Phillips, Westerville recreation and operations superintendent, said city officials wanted to reach out to those who traditionally visited recreational facilities but could not do so because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"We want to maintain that connection," Phillips said. "In the world we're in, we realize that virtual thing won't go away.

"People have fears about being in a group setting. We decided in looking at the trend in our industry, we still wanted to offer recreational opportunities."

Categories for the Virtual Recreation Center include fitness and wellness, art and music, family and fun games, educational activities and resources, older adults and outdoor recreation and exploration. Classes are listed at parks.westerville.org/programs/virtualrecreation.

"We're wanting to grow these categories and keep the experiences fresh and new," Phillips said. "This is the tip of the iceberg."

Randy Auler, Westerville director of parks and recreation, said staff members always are thinking about that next big idea, and this is a time to offer the most innovative programs.

"We've already had a really strong response to the free online fitness classes offered by our instructors," he said.

"We hope people will find this a creative way to both hope and cope while we're all still apart."

Auler said those with suggestions for making the virtual experience better should send email to parksandrec@westerville.org.

The Virtual Recreation Center website said Westerville Parks and Recreation is committed to supporting the well-being of the community in a new way.

"It is important for all to have access to a variety of resources to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle during this challenging time," it said. "Inside this virtual recreation portal, you'll find online programs to take part in and resources to explore to stay active both physically and mentally."

In the art and music category, participants are invited to join the Artist Table with Otterbein University graduate Edith Dinger Wadkins for art lessons from home.

In the coming weeks, she will teach various painting and drawing techniques through custom art projects. Users can visit the Artist Table Facebook event page to leave questions for Wadkins and share their artwork.

Phillips said he and staff members are learning new things every day about how they can explore and broaden offerings through Facebook Live and real-time Google Hangout settings.

"The senior center can do bingo," he said. "We're trying to keep connected through these opportunities. Staff is working hard to put a variety of things out there. It isn't something we think will go away."

Phillips said the Virtual Recreation Center is geared toward the Westerville community and its residents.

"We're doing this for a connection for our residents," he said. "There's a large connection with staff and the community who miss each other.

"We do have some nonresidents who participate in a lot of our programs. It's who comes to us we want to provide for."

Phillips said all the virtual classes are free.

"We want to keep the variety going," he said. "We'll keep it fresh and expand and grow. I think it will maintain itself for those who are interested in the virtual experience."

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla