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East County Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021 12 months ago

All fun and games

What started as a way to bring people together during the pandemic has grown into a full-fledged recreation program.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Editor


n creating a Summer 2021 Parks and Rec Guide, Lakewood Ranch Community Activities wants to help people relax. It’s why the first class offered was Yoga in the Park.

It’s also appropriate because the organization has been bending over backwards to bring the guide to the community.

Community Relations Director Monaca Onstad, 46, says she first conceived of the idea three years ago, based on an experience she had when she lived out west.

“I moved to Pleasanton, California, out of college,” Onstad says. “I didn’t know anyone and wanted a way to meet new people, so I joined a tennis class through the city’s parks and rec program. Through that class, I got into a group of people.”

Onstad knew the community needed more things to do outside, but there always seemed to be another idea taking precedent. During the onset of the pandemic, Onstad says, she and the rest of her team finally had a chance to sit back and take a bird’s-eye view of Lakewood Ranch’s programming. They realized their parks programming was lacking, especially then, when people were wary to gather indoors. The time had finally come to revamp Lakewood Ranch’s offerings.

Onstad says the organization decided to start small. Yoga in the Park was the first class offered, with the idea of the class acting as a stress reliever. Outdoor barre classes were added next, then Fit4Kids classes because children had to do something during the day.

From there, things took off. Onstad credits Keith Pandeloglou, the Lakewood Ranch Community Activities executive director, with putting together the majority of the programming. That means not only thinking of classes and hiring instructors but also getting local businesses to sponsor the classes, therefore cutting the costs for participants. In the 2021 Summer guide, 12 of the 15 a la carte classes are free to Lakewood Ranch residents.

“We have approximately 20 different partners helping to put these events on,” Pandeloglou says. “We want people getting outside and learning whenever possible. We do have to pass some of the costs on (to participants), but not a ton.”

Almost all of the classes Community Activities has tried have been hits, Onstad says, and the ones that didn’t generate much interest are not necessarily failures. That’s because the team has figured out the secret ingredient to making an offering work: timing. For example, the Fit4Kids class was initially set for right after school, and it was a hit, but once the region began opening up, kids went back to the activities they were doing pre-pandemic. Onstad says the solution was moving the class to a different time. Onstad says her team has asked Lakewood Ranch parents what times would work best for their children, a practice they have carried to other classes. In the Summer 2021 guide, the Fit4Kids class is back to being offered in the afternoons  — 4-5 p.m. — but it will likely be different in the next guide.

Yes, there will be a next guide. Onstad says Community Activities plans on putting out three guides a year, though the permanent timing of those guides has yet to be decided. The next guide will span the rest of 2021, beginning in August. Although the summer guide’s offerings were fairly standard, with activities including volleyball, cornhole and kickball alongside a handful of wellness classes, the next one promises to be a bit more out there. Onstad says she’s particularly excited for a ukulele class, but there will also be things like Grilling 101 and a salsa dancing class.

These more niche classes largely stem from requests, Pandeloglou says. Residents (and partners) can ask for specific classes, and Community Activities will listen. There’s no guarantee that a requested class will be created, but anything is possible if it has enough support. Pandeloglou says the team plans on building out its offerings slowly. Community Activities doesn’t want to overwhelm its parks, he says, so it’s making sure there are still open days at each park for residents to use for birthday parties or impromptu flag football games if they wish.

Pandeloglou urges residents interested in using the guide to download the Lakewood Ranch app. Sometimes classes are added after the guide is completed, he says, or times are changed. The events calendar on the app is continually updated, so there’s never any fear of missing out.

Both Pandeloglou and Onstad have tried classes themselves — Pandeloglou likes midday volleyball and fishing Saturdays, while Onstad has tried yoga, barre and disc golf. Onstad says she sometimes gets too inside her own head while at events, worrying about others having a good time and forgetting about herself. Once she lets that go, though, she’s a fan like everyone else.

“Sometimes I stop and think, ‘Oh, my gosh, I live here,’” Onstad says.

The Community Activities team wants residents to have the same thought.

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