Youth programs hope for quick end to latest round of COVID restrictions as pandemic struggles continue

·3 min read
Current COVID-19 restrictions on P.E.I. have put children's activities like dance class, gymnastics, taekwondo and swimming lessons on pause.  (Sura Nualpradid / Shutterstock - image credit)
Current COVID-19 restrictions on P.E.I. have put children's activities like dance class, gymnastics, taekwondo and swimming lessons on pause. (Sura Nualpradid / Shutterstock - image credit)

In the face of climbing COVID-19 case numbers, some P.E.I. youth programs are bracing for the financial impact of ongoing health restrictions.

Currently, indoor sport and recreational activities are paused for Island children under the age of 12, practice has been halted for those over 12 and fitness facilities are operating at 50 per cent capacity.

This means things like children's dance class, hockey, gymnastics and swimming lessons have stopped for the time being.

"Our income does come from running programs so if we're not running programs, we're not getting income and that makes it harder to pay our staff," said Hannah Gehrels, the projects co-ordinator of Wild Child, an outdoor program connecting kids with nature.

"Two weeks is fine but if this stretches out to most of the winter, you know, I do worry about what that impact will be."

'Very stressful, very tight'

Gehrels said funding from places such as the United Way and Wildlife Conservation Fund have helped keep Wild Child running throughout the pandemic.

But, she said those organizations have provided that money based on the deliverables they promised and without running programs, those promises become harder to keep.

Brian Higgins/CBC
Brian Higgins/CBC

"It just makes it very stressful, very tight and harder kind of going into 2022," she said. "I think we're in the same boat as a lot of people. As you know, we're all just trying our best."

Gehrels is not alone, P.E.I. Taekwondo has temporarily shut down too.

"We're on full stop right now," said owner Mike Ives.

"We want the kids to be safe. A lot ... of the students we teach are children under 12. So with them just kind of in the process of getting vaccinated, that's not necessarily the right place for them to be."

Ives said although financially he doesn't want to see the facility closed for too long, it's "more important right now to be safe, so everything else just has to really be secondary."

Hard on families

A number of other local businesses geared toward young people also expressed concerns to CBC News, but it's not just the programs being impacted.

"It's a really difficult situation for a lot of families and our hearts go out to them," said Gehrels

"We are putting activity ideas of how to get kids outside and being excited about being outside on our social media. So just posting little videos or resources every day."

Travis Kingdon/CBC
Travis Kingdon/CBC

Ives has seen first-hand how beneficial exercise can be.

In addition to P.E.I. Taekwondo, he also co-owns CrossFit 782 and 782 Athletics, which is currently permitted to operate with stringent safeguards in place. Those include proof of vaccination, 15 minute buffers between classes, remaining in a designated area during the workout and only allowing people into the building one at a time.

"Some of these kids, sports are very important to them. So they're missing that outlet right now. And then you can't underestimate the mental health aspect of it," he said.

"Having an outlet for them is super important."

'Still trying to figure out the situation'

Since the onset of the pandemic, Ives said his Crossfit memberships have doubled — a sigh of relief since expenses have also jumped.

"A lot of these kids are missing out as they currently are on a lot of their sports. So, you know, our teens class has been quite popular for kids," he said.

"We have had a few people who paused their memberships in the meantime just because Omicron is kind of new and people are still trying to figure out the situation there."

In the meantime, both are keeping their fingers crossed that children can safely return to their old routines soon.

And with snow on its way to P.E.I., Gehrels has some ideas for those looking at ways to exert some energy this weekend.

"If it's sticky snow, building snow people and building snow forts," she said.

"Once the storm has passed, getting those snow pants on and going outside in the snow is wonderful."

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