The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges that community rec organizations have had to adjust to, such as engaging at-risk populations, battling food insecurity and scheduling fitness programs while under stay at home orders.
However, as the REC of Grapevine in Grapevine, Texas found out, some challenges couldn’t be prepared for before stay at home orders were enacted.
“We’re right next door to the library, and both facilities serve the community through our computer classes,” said Kevin Mitchell, the director of parks and recreation at the REC of Grapevine. “We hadn’t thought of this when the pandemic started, but when we closed the doors, we quickly learned we shut off internet access for hundreds of kids.”
Even though most children in Grapevine’s local school districts have a device they can use to do work outside school, many were unable to complete their work without internet access. While children are at home during normal school hours, online resource accessibility transitioned from an added commodity to a necessity.
To address this need, the REC of Grapevine quickly pivoted and found a creative way to take advantage of some unused facility space. “We have hundreds of parking spaces outside our building, so we worked with our IT department to set up Wifi nodes out in several of our public parking lots at this facility and some of our larger parks,” explained Mitchell. “Parents can drive there, still stay isolated in their cars, and allow their kids to do their homework.”
This unique solution, which, according to Mitchell, was implemented “in a matter of days,” would not have been possible without the partnerships the City of Grapevine has had with local internet providers for several years.
“We’ve installed our own fiber network to every city facility in town,” said Mitchell. “And we’ve partnered with the local school district to connect their facilities. We have 100-plus buildings on our own fiber network, and we have unlimited bandwidth on that network.”
This preexisting connectivity made it easy for the REC of Grapevine’s IT department to quickly go out and install hotspots in parking lots spanning the department’s many facilities. Doing so helped the organization meet a pressing need for its youth and family population.
“That was quite a unique challenge for a certain part of our population,” said Mitchell. “Fortunately, we have a staff that was able to react very quickly, and provide a very important service for kids in our area.”