When Jennifer Holland accepted her job a year ago as the executive director for Sisters Park & Recreation District (SPRD), little did she imagine she would have to cancel programs, lay off most the staff, and restructure the budget and the organization to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has kept me on my toes! I have learned so much this last year,” Holland said.

Holland wants the community to know how grateful she is that the local option levy was approved by the voters, helping to sustain SPRD through this difficult time.

Better Together in Bend helped secure some emergency funding for youth service providers in the area, including SPRD. Holland added they were also able to get some COVID-19-related funding for things like cleaning supplies and some staff support.

At one point, Holland and the new business manager, Sarah Hiatt, were the only staff left in the building. In late May, they were able to hire back Jason Huber, recreation coordinator. Because of program cancellations, the revenue just isn’t there to bring all of the staff back right now. However, they are currently hiring for a number of contract and part-time positions which are listed on the SPRD website. The eventual staff makeup will be designed for the size and needs of the community. Over the summer, the staff that remained wore many hats, with the preschool staff running the day camps they could offer.

Youth service agencies are highly regulated when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines because of the range of ages served and the variety of programs and classes offered. Because SPRD has to follow eight different sector guidelines, they have to default to the strictest guidelines, which limits what they are able to offer.

“We’ve been truly impacted by the number of programs canceled due to COVID-19 guidelines,” Holland explained. “This summer we could only do a few day camps, and after only two weeks, we had to cancel the softball program.”

This fall, any of the programs they will be offering will have caps on the number of participants able to enroll. For example, there are three classrooms for the preschool program. Two will be able to accommodate 10 students and the third one could eventually take 20 students.

“We have had to be really creative in how to stay in touch with our patrons,” said Holland. And the effort has paid off, as she explained, “I am really grateful to live in Sisters. We are getting compliments on our maintaining communication with the community and keeping some programs going.”

Prior to COVID-19, Huber had his entire fall sports program laid out, but those plans have changed. Instead, he will be running the “Outlaws Training Program,” which will offer skills and drills and conditioning programs for football and soccer. The soccer skills will be offered for first through eighth graders and the flag football is designed for first through fifth grades. SPRD is working with the Sisters School District to ensure their programs will match what is being offered in the schools. Programs will be run according to the OSAA guidelines.

Several adult classes are currently occurring: Zumba via Zoom, and Shannon Rackowski’s Stretch and Flex at Coffield Center. More will be added as the pandemic threat lessens.

Holland indicated, “We have been working hard behind the scenes to run programs that meet the needs of the community and to slowly get more programs off the ground. Everyone has been so supportive.”

She went on, “I think we’ll be sitting in a pretty decent position when everything is back up and running. In the beginning we may have to keep our number of participants lower to meet people’s comfort levels.”

With the elementary school opening this past Monday, the Kids Club will start up on October 5 or later, depending on staff. This is the before- and after-school program at the elementary school gym for kindergarten through third-grade students. Registration is taking place this week.

Camp SPRD is for fourth- through sixth-graders, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., offered until winter break, or until Sisters Middle School opens its doors for on-campus learning. Camp is scheduled to begin October 12, based on securing staff.

SPRD board member, Bob Keefer, was elected to serve as the president of the board of directors, with Jeff Tryens taking the vice-president position. Heath Foott is deployed with the National Guard but receives regular updates. Peggy Tehan and Rosemary Vasquez are the other board members.

“Our board members are truly advocates for services and programs for kids and adults,” Holland said. “In these difficult times they shared their insights from previous experiences.”