Community organizations adapt fast and survive the pandemic

April 28, 2021 — by Martin Xu

After the initial lockdown in March 2020 began, community organizations in Saratoga rushed to accommodate Santa Clara County quarantine guidelines. Now, as the county has begun moving down California’s county risk levels, these same organizations say they are reopening with caution.

 

BonHomie Senior Home moves closer to normal

While there was a surge in COVID-19 cases within senior homes at the start of the pandemic, BonHomie has nevertheless been able to thrive due to its quick response to the initial rise. 

BonHomie is a chain of assisted living homes located in San Jose and Saratoga. It operates eight suburban homes across the two cities. 

At the start of the lockdown, the facilities lacked materials such as masks and sanitization devices. 

Jona Romualdez, the owner of BonHomie, said the organization combatted this problem by asking for donations from their seniors’ family members and making their own masks and hand sanitizers for all eight of their care homes. 

“We handmade our own fun face shields with foam, plastic covers and spray glue,” Romualdez said. “We even bought raincoats from Amazon for protection and also made our own hand sanitizers and spray using alcohol and hydrogen peroxide.”

Once they had enough equipment to ensure the care homes were safe, Romualdez and her team looked for ways to allow family members to meet via Zoom and conduct virtual house tours for interested families. 

Since residents, staff and healthcare workers at the homes were vaccinated earlier in the year, Romualdez said they feel much safer conducting in person meetings as extra protocols such as social distancing, masking and sanitization help reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Nonetheless, BonHomie still encourages online meetings between people who have not yet been vaccinated. 

With new COVID-19 cases decreasing steadily, Romualdez and her staff feel more hopeful that they will finally be able to operate normally and allow seniors to freely visit their families in person without any concerns. 

“We are looking forward to families being able to hug their parents, grandparents and friends who come over to visit,” Romualdez said.

 

LGS Recreation offers new platform

Within two weeks of the shelter-in-place announcement, LGS Recreation built a virtual platform on its: It was called the LGS Recreation Virtual Recreation Center.

Throughout the pandemic, the organization modified additional programs to be held safely outdoors, implemented more well-defined guidelines, performed wellness checks and provided interactions with others for their senior community and those most isolated. They also converted annual special events such as Breakfast and Snack With Santa, Santa Visits, Holiday Sing-A-Long and many more into drive-thru events and food services, and provided access to community-wide resources via the LGS website and social media.

Emily Sprugasci, the LGS Recreation manager, said her team wanted to be as transparent as possible when communicating the organization’s COVID-19 safety guidelines 

“When there has been a discrepancy between protocols, we are on the more conservative side,” Sprugasci told The Falcon. “While certainly we look forward to a return to ‘normal,’ in the meantime we’ve worked to be as communicative and clear as possible as to what steps we’ve taken and why.” 

Although it has been hard to arrange in-person activities for LGS Recreation, Sprugasci and her team have gained some more opportunities due to the remote environment, including implementing school site distance learning hubs offered via their Clubhouse division. 

Additionally, they were able to start multiple different learning hub divisions through the pandemic, including a new Esports division, new Cornhole League and competitive Chess League. They were also able to expand their ongoing programs, such as increasing services and hours for the Aquatics and Vasona Boating programs.

Another important part of LGS Recreation is the Clubhouse, an afterschool program that provides a fun and helpful environment for K-5 students. Even with the pandemic, LGS Recreation employees say they try their hardest to offer an exciting and supportive experience for these students.

After going remote at the beginning of the pandemic, LGS Recreation was able to develop a daily plan to aid in keeping everyone safe through small group restrictions, social distancing guidelines,  facility modifications, increased cleaning and disinfecting procedures, careful choice of activities and staff training.

Due to these protocols, LGS Recreation’s Clubhouse Programs have been able to reopen and run smoothly since the start of the school year to provide a small group of remote learning cohorts for grades K-5. Clubhouse staff also facilitate a quiet supervised environment for children to participate in remote learning and schoolwork.  

“Clubhouse Programs have continued to provide a fun, entertaining, enriching and safe environment for our students and families,” Sprugasci said. “Our goal is to help our students be successful in school while in our program. We are proud of the environment we have created in our Clubhouse Programs and look forward to providing even more memories in the future.”

The Clubhouse staff also develops monthly activity calendars so LGS Recreation can continue to provide beloved opportunities and activities such as STEAM activities, science experiments, arts and crafts projects, outdoor games/sports and more to come, according to Sprugasci.

Although the past year has been hard for LGS Recreation’s organizers and participants, Sprugasci said that she and her team are happy about the organization’s ability to quickly adapt quickly. They look forward to a smooth return to normalcy.

“Like many, we’ve adapted to virtual operation and our highest priority has been to keep our community, staff, instructors, partners and families safe,” Sprugasci said. “In many ways our efficiency and collaborative agency culture has only improved as we’ve all leaned on each other through a difficult time. For this, we have been fortunate, and together we deeply look forward to brighter days for all of us.”

 

AYSO get back to playing games

As soon as the pandemic hit in March, Saratoga’s American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) branch canceled its spring season and refunded all participants in coupons or money. 

Although the organization wasn't able to reopen for the fall season, they worked with the county to allow a limited number of players to join controlled training sessions under county-approved guidelines. 

During this period of time, safety director and regional commissioner Charlie Bedard and his team developed guidelines that would help AYSO slowly reopen its programs in late 2020 and early 2021. 

To keep participants safe, AYSO Saratoga chose to discontinue its tradition of hiring volunteer coaches. Instead, the organization employed paid coaches who were properly trained to make sure all county guidelines were followed. 

As a result of county guidelines, limited cohorts were introduced to prevent large gatherings that would spread COVID-19. Within these cohorts, players had no close contact with their teammates. Masks were also mandatory for players and coaches as soon as they were off the fields. Parents weren’t allowed to observe, as AYSO Saratoga could not monitor or control parent masking requirements.

“We were confident in these procedures and had no incidents of any players testing positive,” Bedard said.

Although these restrictions caused a significant change in practice routines, Bedard said players and parents were excited to participate.

“When the fall came and we could offer limited training sessions, many parents and players were happy just being able to sign up for a fun activity,” Bedard said. “So while we did not get as many participants as we would typically get in the fall, there were enough that we could keep the region going and offer a valuable physical activity for many players.”

As the number of COVID-19 cases decreases, restrictions allow for more flexibility within the soccer club. Coaches were put in a vaccination program and have gotten a vaccine, Bedard said. However, Bedard emphasized that there will be no interplay between different regions even with the loosening of restrictions. 

“[Keeping players and coaches within their own regions] allows us to regulate guidelines and also ensure everyone’s safety,” Bedard said. “We look forward to a safe return to competitive games with referees.”

Although this past year has strained AYSO Saratoga’s budget, Bedard said that he was proud of the way the organization handled compensation for its spring season. Combined with their well-thought-out guidelines in the fall, it allowed the region to survive a burdensome year.

“I am grateful to the many families in Saratoga who chose to accept the coupons for future activities, as this helped to keep the region financially solvent,” Bedard said. “Now, with the spring restrictions being lowered a bit, we can offer even more activities for the players and our region will survive.”