Gatling Rec Center’s after-school program returns despite COVID

Chris Gatling Recreation Center

IRVINGTON, NJ — Due to the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic had during the 2020-2021 school year, after-school programs across the state weren’t possible. Even though COVID-19 cases are spiking once again, vaccines have made it possible for the state to acquire some sort of normalcy. The Chris Gatling Recreation Center is also getting back to normal, resuming its after-school program.

According to Recreation Department director Donald Malloy, Irvington Recreation’s after-school program will begin this fall on Sept. 20 and run through the entire school year. The current summer program now serves 65 to 70 children, at three different sites.

“The program will run throughout the school year unless this COVID-19 gets crazy and interferes with that,” Malloy said Aug. 19. “But we’re anticipating running from Sept. to June 30 of next year, 2022, and then of course, July will be the summer program again.”

With nine volunteers and staff ready to guide children in an array of activities this school year, the after-school program remains free for residents through the end of the year.

“The after-school program will consist of basketball for youth; youth boxing; dance; an art program; an instructional program in music including piano, voice, etc.; teen basketball; and adult basketball,” Malloy said. “We have volunteer staff — for example, with our dancing theater, we have a person who specializes in that. For our vocal and musical classes, we have a person who specializes in that also. We have people who specialize in those areas. So those people are already coming here in the fall.

“It’s all going to be free until Dec. 31,” he continued. “The cost isn’t really a trial run, because, in our other program, we had to shut down coming out of 2019. Some people already had advance-paid for services in 2020 which we didn’t open. So, it’s only fair for us to come in in September and tell them they don’t have to pay anything until the end of December.”

The recreation department will resume collecting program fees in January 2022.

“We don’t have enrollment for the fall yet because our numbers are going to be based on school population, but we do have people that are calling and questioning about the program right now, which is a great thing,” Malloy said. “We want their interest, because we haven’t done it in almost two years.”

In case COVID-19 case numbers continue to spike — a distinct possibility due to the delta variant — and affect recreation programming, Malloy and his staff are prepared. 

“We would shut the physical-ness of the building down, but we don’t have to shut the (virtual components) of this building down,” Malloy said. “We have computers so we can go virtual. We’ve gone virtual this summer, and we’re doing virtual now. I hired a virtual company where kids can get around computers and play all of their games from this playful company on the computers. A lot of these kids already have Chromebooks in school, so they can log on as well.

“In terms of being safe from COVID-19, for us, it’s about extreme caution and care,” he continued. “The first thing that we’ll do is get a temperature check for the child, then sanitization. Once they’re sanitized, they will sit at a table. We have a policy here where we’re not doing (any) more than three people to a table.”

When it comes to the after-school program returning this September, Malloy hopes for child engagement across the board.

“For the whole program, we want to be able to engage our kids, because they’ve been distant enough,” Malloy said. “These kids have social lives, and we want to engage them and be able to unite them with their friends. They’re being responsible — face masking will definitely be enforced, much like how we’re enforcing it now during the summer, and social distancing will always be required inside of our buildings. As long as they can follow directions, they’ll be fine, and they’ve been so great during the summer following directions and protocol.”