Parents Still Frustrated By Rec Programs

by William F. Galvin
Youngsters were enjoying a game of basketball in the community center gym on Thursday afternoon. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO Youngsters were enjoying a game of basketball in the community center gym on Thursday afternoon. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – There remains dissatisfaction with the level of programming and a lack of communication between the recreation department and parents in the community.

A presentation last week to the recreation and youth commission by Kristen Wentworth, representing the Friends of Harwich Youth and Rec Commission, spoke to communication and organizational issues.

“We are here to collaborate, not to call anybody out,” Wentworth said. “ You do an amazing job representing us all. But people are not happy with the current level of programs and the lack of communication and organization. We’re here solely for positive impact and change.”

Lack of programming issues were brought before the select board in November, and in a subsequent discussion several new programs were proposed. In some instances those programs were never initiated because of a lack of participation, but parents said they tried to sign up but it became too difficult, said Wentworth.

Parents with kids in the kindergarten to second grade programs cited the lack of attention provided by recreation staff, she said. Parents who volunteer to coach programs are not provided any direction, she added. Uniforms come late and are not size appropriate, there are not enough basketballs for the kids and they are often not inflated, and rosters come at the last minute. There is nobody there to open and close the gym, help set up or clean up, said Wentworth.

In the kindergarten to eighth grade basketball programs in Chatham, uniforms come on the first day, along with rosters, she said. The coaches there are all from Harwich, according to Wentworth.

She questioned the status of proposed programs. Recreation Director Eric Beebe said there was no indoor field hockey, but there were outdoor clinics. There was a soccer program and Hoops with Noops basketball clinics. There was no learn to skate or a flag football program. Beebe said arts and other non-sports activities were incorporated into the after-school program.

“I just think we rushed, we’re not being very patient at times, just pulling programs after programs, after programs,” Recreation and Youth Commission Chair Vahan Khachadoorian said.

Fourteen programs were considered, he said, and while some of them could be done, others would need additional staffing and there were budgetary issues. As spring and summer programming is considered, rec officials will have to make sure programs are well organized, comprehensive, informational and that parents get the information before the programs are posted, he said.

Beebe said the department is looking at putting a newsletter together to provide information to parents and distribute through the schools.

He said the “My Rec” online program purchased in July has been slow to implement because of a lack of staffing to dedicate the necessary time to place the Harwich specific information into the program. An earlier projected timeline for the website was Jan. 8, but it was not met. The website would include all recreation department programming information and allow online registrations for programs.

Khachadoorian recommended a parent subcommittee be formed to work with Beebe to write up program information developed by volunteers detailing components of the programs to be passed on to parents. Wentworth took issue with that recommendation.

“The job of recreation director is to coach the coaches, define what they should be doing and provide a description of the programs, and the parents can run the program with that guidance,” said Wentworth.

Khachadoorian said while there is talk of collaboration, the director cannot be expected to do everything. He runs not only the office but the fields and the programs. This is done with a director, one secretary and a part-time assistant, and he said more staff is needed.

“We need help. If you are going to help us, you’ve got to coordinate with him. You’ve got to work and coordinate with the guy who is in charge of this department,” Khachadoorian said.

He recommended the Friends group get together with Beebe and work through the issues.

Beebe said the town administrator has instructed him not to work with the Friends group.

“I just don’t understand that, but you work for Joe (Powers, the town administrator), you don’t work for us,” responded Khachadoorian.

“We established a request for a subcommittee, a working group, that turned into a Friends group, that was totally different from what you guys asked,” said Beebe.

Select Board Chair Julie Kavanagh, who was present during the discussion, said no subcommittee was formed, but there is nothing to prevent Wentworth or members of the Friends group from meeting with Beebe.

“While I’m not allowed to meet with the Friends group, as I was told, I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t meet with a representative of the Friends group to discuss what’s going on, what the status is, and have a back and forth If somebody shows up in my office, I’ll meet with them,” Beebe said.

Kavanagh said since the Nov. 28 meeting, the commission has only met on Dec. 12 and on Jan. 30. Municipal government doesn’t work that fast, she said of making changes to programming; it takes time.

Kavanagh said she would have a conversation with Powers about additional personnel for the recreation department and see if additional money can be found for staff.

The proposed fiscal 2025 budget presented by the town administrator refers to proposed enhancements of services that have been requested but not funded in the department’s operating budget, including $68,775 for additional staff in the recreation department.

“We’ll continue to work on it, work together and hopefully we can get more positive things happening,” Khachadoorian said.