Through the Planteen Rec Center and newly-built Sadye Gibbs Martin Community Center, Parks and Rec provides a number of free or low-cost programs for Plant City’s residents.
Plant City takes pride in their sense of community, working hand-in-hand for the betterment of their fellow residents and hometown as a whole.
For examples of this, you don’t have to look much further than the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and their two city-run rec centers, the Planteen Recreation Center and the newly-built Sadye Gibbs Martin Community Center (SGMCC).
COVID-19 continues to pose a problem for the community centers, limiting class sizes and general attendance as the SGMCC also opened their doors in the middle of the pandemic, but as vaccination rates increase and case numbers decrease throughout the state, both locations are progressing in their transition back to normalcy.
“We tried to keep it as safe as possible,” SGMCC recreation supervisor Julie Garretson said. “We followed the CDC guidelines for masking, all of those things, so we didn’t have too much pushback. Maybe a month was kind of tricky but after that it was pretty smooth sailing, we didn’t have too many limitations.”
Summer programs have been limited to 75 kids at both locations.
“Moving forward into next year we should be able to increase our head count, potentially double it,” Planteen Rec Center recreation supervisor Maggie Morona-Cole said. “We’ve had 200 kids for the past couple of years with the loss of the MLK Rec Center, before the (SGMCC) opened, so I’ve been the only site open and have been taking up to 200 for the three years that we only had the one rec center. But now that we’re getting back into a world where we have two facilities that can support it, I will probably be around 140, 150 kids each summer.”
So despite a limited capacity enforced at Plant City’s rec centers, with decreased sizes for their summer and after school programs and guidelines that promoted safer practices like non-contact policies in sports or pods that isolate each group of kids, the biggest early obstacle that the new SGMCC faced was filling classrooms and rental spaces for their classes and programs.
“One hard part, the hurdle that we faced, was that normally when you open a rec center or a community center you have people beating down your doors to run dance classes and art classes, they want to teach this and teach that and do all of these different things,” Garretson said. “But we were kind of like cold calling at this point to try and get people to come in and offer classes. Whether the instructors weren’t doing it because they didn’t feel safe, they may be contracted through a company and were on pause, they were on hold, different things. So we kind of started out slowly with the programming and it built over time.”
But these hurdles don’t just impact the community centers themselves, they also impact the community around them that relies on these programs. While the after school and summer programs are the primary city-run events at these locations, the community centers also play host to a number of free or low-cost classes and programs.
“It’s a game-changer for (some kids),” Garretson said. “To be able to come and express themselves, whether it’s through art, through sports, through whatever. They’re safe, they have mentors, our staff are really good to mentor the kids. So it’s amazing how impactful something like just eight weeks of summer camp can be for some of these kids. We make lasting relationships with them.”
“These are programs that are critically important at a secondary level,” Morona-Cole added. “Teachers are heroes and they’re amazing but with all of the things on their plate, they often don’t have time to meet the standards that the schools require and also provide all of these extra things. So our mission is to really just back that up, to give those extra opportunities for kids to bond with an adult, to see the right way, to be exposed and look at the world differently.”
Exercise, dance and tutoring classes along with several volunteer-run programs utilize the city’s property. This includes M.A.T.E.S., a low-intensity workout program for all age groups on Saturdays, hip hop aerobic classes on Thursdays, WNBA-affiliated basketball programs for young girls and more. The SGMCC has even been reformatted to host conventions, sports tournaments and city business brunches in their 18,000 square foot gymnasium.
“We didn’t want to come in and set the bar low,” Garretson said. “We wanted to come in and try to make a difference and make sure that people feel welcome. All walks of life, all socioeconomic levels, everybody can come through the doors and find something that they like or something that they want to do.”
Now leading into the fall, Parks and Rec looks toward getting back to a more traditional programming schedule as COVID protocols allow. Without the opportunity to throw a major grand opening celebration, the SGMCC is hoping to hold a one-year celebration in September and both centers plan on continuing to gradually expand on their already-growing number of available programs.