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Recreation and Wellness Department looks to provide creative outlet for students during pandemic

By Kevin Hornibrook
Staff Writer

The Department of Recreation and Wellness reached out to The Signal to discuss their programs offered this semester and to increase awareness for RECreate Your Night, a program where students can participate in virtual activities every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday through live or recorded Zoom calls. 

Anna Kwiatek, Events and Wellness Intern and Coordinator of Events for RECreate Your Night, explained some of the events such as craft nights, yoga, game nights and more. Kwiatek schedules these events and communicates with other staff members to make RECreate Your Night run as smoothly as possible.

“RECreate Your Night is meant as a safe alternative to anything that would put you in danger,” said sophomore psychology major Kristin Sandel, a RECreate Your Night Area Supervisor. “We serve to help broaden the TCNJ community, especially for incoming freshmen who haven’t met anyone and made friends yet. We like to support anyone in the community who needs something to look forward to on the weekend or something to do.”

Sandel, who described herself as Kwiatek’s “right hand man,” is tasked with formulating events and organizing specific details, along with communicating with other clubs and organizations to put together co-sponsorships. 

One new aspect of the program that she helped plan is a points and prize system. Points are earned by attending, promoting the event by tagging the department on your social media platforms or by bringing along new attendees every week.

“If you accumulate up to 50 points by May, you will automatically get an email from us and you will be eligible to pick up a prize between $50 and $100 value,” she said, “I think somebody already has 40 points, which I think is crazy but she found a way to do it.” 

This system is one of many changes that had to come with a pandemic-affected schedule. According to Kwiatek, over 100 students attended RECreate Your Night before the pandemic, but that number dropped to around 40 when students were first sent home. Diligent efforts from the staff has caused steady growth to bring attendance back to around 80 students and climbing.

“We’ve tried to keep our programming as similar as possible as when we were on campus… but some of them just couldn’t be transferred into a virtual setting,” Sandel said. Events like group food nights or NERF fights had to be left behind. “This semester we’ve relied more on technology.” 

Students can access a detailed description of events this semester on the department’s web page.

The Department of Recreation and Wellness will be hosting upcoming events in the Rec Center (recreation.tcnj.edu)

Sandel pointed out that, despite the consistent growth, there is a real concern that students who feel like they don’t have options regarding unwinding for mental health purposes don’t know about RECreate Your Night. The department has tried to combat this lack of awareness through social media and emails, but many students still don’t know about the program.

“We’re trying to do our best with our programming to reach all kinds of people. It doesn’t even matter what you’re interested in, just to have something to look forward to at the end of the week and something to do,” Sandel said. “That’s probably been our biggest goal.”

The Department of Recreation and Wellness is not limited to just RECreate Your Night. Activities related to club sports and the fitness center are different from their usual operation, but there is still room for the department to offer students time to exercise and interact with each other. Through the Atleto app, students can schedule 45 minute blocks of time in the fitness center or sign up for fitness classes on Zoom or Instagram live. The Rec Center is still open on Monday to Friday from 8:00-11:00 p.m., albeit with no rental equipment.

Both Sandel and Kwiatek emphasized the department’s goal of combating mental health struggles with a strong sense of community and inclusivity. They’ve made sure to structure their events in a way that doesn’t exclude any students, whether they are at home, on campus or off campus. For example, if students on campus need craft supplies but are not supposed to be leaving campus grounds, there are organized pickups to get the needed materials. Quarantined students can reach out to staff and have supplies delivered to where they are living. 

“We want to promote that the department isn’t just for athletes. It’s for people of any physical activity level, but you don’t even have to be physically active,” said Kwiatek. “The RECreate Your Night programming is more a creative and social side, something to do for self care and step away from working… self-care is our main goal, whether its mental, emotional or physical, that’s our main thing to promote” 

This idea of self-care also includes their goal of building togetherness among students who have been stuck at home for so long. The activities are intended to bring about a wholesome large group experience, according to Kwiatek. 

“This is a community, it’s not something exclusive. It’s for everybody,” Sandel said. “As a community we are strong and we should lean on each other for support.”

As Covid-19 vaccinations spread across the country, there is optimism for some degree of normalcy to return. Kwiatek and Sandel expect things to be different in the future. They’re still cautious, but are looking forward to seeing students in person once again after the College pushes through the next few months.

“From a student perspective, in terms of restrictions in the future and how things will work next semester, I would say to have hope,” Sandel said. “There’s a lot going on right now and sometimes you need a little positivity, and that’s what we’re trying to offer — a little piece of positivity.”

 

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