Gahanna Parks & Recreation, Gahanna Special Olympics strengthen partnership amid COVID-19

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group
Gahanna Special Olympics athlete Tyler Lutz uses a Gahanna Parks & Recreation crate for a fall craft project.

A partnership between the Gahanna Special Olympics and Gahanna Parks & Recreation was strengthened last year, and it’s still going strong, according to Gahanna city officials.

Although 2020 brought more than its share of cancellations and closures due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Carrin Wester, city communications manager, said it didn’t limit the growth of a strong community partnership between the two groups. 

City parks-and-rec staff worked closely with Gahanna Special Olympics to customize activities for students in golf, kayaking, canoeing and paddle boating. 

In fact, Wester said, Special Olympics students became the largest group of individuals taking part in the city’s new Rec Crate program. 

The Rec Crate program was started last summer, offering activities for families and children who wanted to experience new programs while staying at home, said Sarah Mill, recreation supervisor.

The crates include materials for games, arts and crafts and other activities.

Karmen McCaslin, Gahanna Special Olympics co-coordinator with Liz Lonsbrough, said her group had attended a movie night put on by parks-and-rec staff last summer, and she had heard mention of the Rec Crate program. 

“I reached out to them right away,” she said. 

McCaslin said Gahanna Special Olympics serves Gahanna athletes and those from Reynoldsburg, Columbus, Etna and Canal Winchester who don’t have their own Special Olympics organization, or their Special Olympics group doesn’t offer an athlete's preferred sports.

She said the group works with parks-and-rec staff on spring-break (March 29- April 2) camp crates that include such themed activities as craft, science, discovery, nature, travel and Olympics. 

Each activity pack is prepped so that children can do them on their own time.

“We are also hopeful to start golf back up soon,” McCaslin said. “I believe our golf team has utilized the Gahanna (Municipal) Golf Course since GSO began offering golf as a sport back in 2006. 

“We partnered with Gahanna Parks & Rec at a higher level this year because we have not been able to participate in our regular sports due to COVID-19.”    

As part of their mission to “provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for all children and adults with intellectual disabilities,” GSO currently serves 87 athletes ranging in age from 8 to 38, according to McCaslin. Additionally, GSO offers a Young Athletes Program for children ages 4 to 7.

McCaslin said GSO is returning in April with track and field and bowling. 

"Due to COVID restrictions, we have to start small," she said. “Our athletes are very appreciative of the resources they have received from Parks & Rec, especially during this last year,” she said. “COVID-19 has been hard on them due to not getting to compete at local and state competitions and not getting to see their friends weekly.  Parks & Rec has helped to ease that isolation and loneliness a bit.”

Establishing a partnership with an organization such as the Gahanna Special Olympics is an incredible opportunity, said Stephania Bernard-Ferrell, director of Gahanna Parks & Recreation. 

“The pandemic created obstacles for everyone,” she said. “Instead of canceling all activities for their athletes, GSO adapted and found safe and new adventures.”

Bernard-Ferrell said the city partnered with GSO in many ways, including blocking out tee times at the Gahanna Municipal Golf Course, 220 Olde Ridenour Road, so they can go free of charge, usually on Sunday evenings. 

Students also were provided a few golf promo items, such as gloves and balls, on their last day of play. 

Bernard-Ferrell said Special Olympics students also participated in the Rec Crate program every month from September through December, purchasing crates for students. 

In January, 18 crates were gifted to GSO, thanks to the generosity of the Gahanna Parks & Recreation Foundation, she said.

Bernard-Ferrell said the city's parks department is appreciative of the partnership.  

“Our staff has worked hard and is continuing to find safe and fun ways for everyone to enjoy our parks and trails,” she said. 

To volunteer or learn more about Gahanna Special Olympics, go to GahannaSpecialOlympics.org

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla