By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
Northborough – The Northborough Recreation Department has thrived under the leadership of Director Allie Lane for over 18 years. She attributes the Department’s success to diverse programming, community partnerships and dedicated staff.
Lane has had a passion for recreation all her life and said she’s “a lifer” for the position.
It was a one woman show in a small office when she first started the position in 2002. Currently, the Department requires an assistant and the typical seasonal program brochure is 32 pages. The Department is also self-sufficient, something Lane was an advocate for so programs aren’t cut due to lack of town funding.
Adapting to pandemic
Lane is proud of the successful, affordable summer camp program, which is the Department’s biggest program and key financial contributor.
In February 2020, summer camps were filled in one hour. Due to COVID-19 impacts, the camps were cancelled and refunds were issued in April.
“We are in charge of the safety of 140 kids each day,” said Lane. “We were very unsure of what was going on. It was a scary time.”
The Department was closed from April through November.
Lane and her assistant Michelle Cilley were reassigned to other departments. Cilley is now permanently with the Planning Department. Lane was temporarily reassigned to the Town Clerk’s office to provide assistance during the busy election year.
“It was pretty awesome doing something different,” she said. “It was an eye opener of what goes on in other departments.”
Programs are coming back slowly; most are in person as people have screen fatigue.
“The pandemic doesn’t just worry me for the kids, but also the senior population who are missing out on the social aspect,” she said.
Diversity, creativity and flexibility
The number of participants per program is completely different than what they were before. Lane received the okay from the Board of Health and the schools to move forward with summer camp options. Creativity and flexibility have been important to create a safe summer camp environment.
“It’s a different place than it was a year ago,” said Lane. “It’s a challenge. Guidelines are constantly changing.”
Diverse offerings are also key to the Department’s success. Programs reflect Lane’s understanding that not everyone enjoys physical activities and sports.
“I think we have one of the most diverse brochures out there,” said Lane. “We have multiple programs for everybody. We are not here just for the kids, we are here for everybody.”
No program can be successful without supporting staff. Lane credited Cilley for many years of hard work, and staff and instructors, who create programs that make parents and kids want to come back.
Lane is working with limited space to offer programs because Town Hall is closed and schools are unavailable. Her established partnerships with businesses, such as Westboro Tennis & Swim Club and The Shrewsbury Club have helped.
“I want people to know that right now I am a one person team,” she said. “I welcome new ideas.”
Future projects include the rebuilding of Assabet Park, which is currently in the design stage; seeking Community Preservation Committee funding for Pickleball courts; and investigating grant opportunities to support a trail around the senior center and for a paved biking trail at Ellsworth McAfee Park. Expanding activities outside for all ages using the new lighting at Melican Middle School fields is also on the radar.
Lane said it is a privilege to be part of the community.
“It’s an interesting position, and I love it like the day I started,” Lane said.
Click here for more Northborough news.