Due to COVID-19, pilot communities are adapting their campaigns to help people stay safe while they get active. This series will highlight local events and initiatives from the community pilot program — including creative ways to promote physical activity during social distancing.
This installment highlights a successful virtual community launch event that took place on May 6, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.
Pilot community at a glance: Chicago, Illinois
Community type: Urban
Population estimate: 2,693,976
Lead agency: Chicago Park District
Lead agency mission:
- Enhance the quality of life in Chicago by becoming the leading provider of recreation and leisure opportunities
- Provide safe, inviting, and beautifully maintained parks and facilities
- Create a customer-focused and responsive park system that prioritizes the needs of children and families
Lead agency website: chicagoparkdistrict.com/
Pivoting to Promote Physical Activity at Home
Each May, the Chicago Park District (CPD) hosts Chicago Moves Day — a weekday event that offers free workouts at Maggie Daley Park and connects Chicago residents to fitness and wellness opportunities across the city. This year, CPD planned a very special Chicago Moves Day to launch their local Move Your Way campaign.
When COVID-19 made an in-person event impossible, CPD rose to the challenge and reimagined their launch event as a virtual experience. They partnered with local instructors to record a series of 9 physical activity videos and invited Chicagoans to visit their website on May 6, follow along with the virtual classes, and “Stay Home, Stay Active!”
The series included everything from classics like yoga and Zumba to a specialized dry land workout for swimmers who can’t access their regular pools. Videos demonstrating a chair exercise class and a kids’ workout ensured that people of all ages and abilities could participate.
Growing Reach by Going Virtual
Instructors filmed the Chicago Moves Day videos in their own homes, with minimal equipment and limited space. Rather than a limitation, CPD saw these filming conditions as an asset — a chance to show the Chicago community how to keep moving during COVID-19, without ever leaving home.
Colleen Lammel-Harmon, CPD Health & Wellness Senior Project Manager, says the pivot to an online event made it possible for a wider range of Chicagoans to participate. “The community loved the virtual classes,” she says. “People commented that it’s so much easier to do it in their home.”
Lammel-Harmon points out that the online format removes barriers related to both motivation and transportation. She says that a lot of people who wouldn’t have been able or willing to go downtown for in-person programming found it easier to participate online.
Leveraging Partnerships to Get the Word Out
CPD relied on strong strategic partnerships to spread the word about their local Move Your Way campaign. Chicago Public Libraries promoted the event on their website, and Chicago Public Schools encouraged gym teachers to integrate the kids’ workout video into remote physical education classes.
Their partnership with the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) was particularly successful, according to Lammel-Harmon. CDPH sent information about Chicago Moves Day to all CDPH city partners, and encouraged them to post about the event using the #ChicagoMovesDay and #MoveYourWayChicago hashtags. CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady also publicized the launch event through her COVID-19 video briefings, which get more than 400 viewers daily.
Viewers really connected with Arwady’s discussion about the importance of physical activity in the context of COVID-19, according to Lammel-Harmon. “I think that brought credibility and visibility to Move Your Way and the physical activity recommendations,” Lammel-Harmon says. “That support really made a difference.”
Chicago Moves Day ultimately garnered almost 1,500 page views on CPD’s website, and the video series got nearly 1,400 views on CPD’s YouTube channel. These numbers point to an increase in participation over last year’s in-person event, which drew around 1,000 attendees.
Looking Ahead to an Active Future for Chicago
CPD’s launch was so successful that they’re planning more virtual events in the future. The initial shift may have been due to COVID-19, but going online helped them reach a larger audience — and discover creative new ways to get the community moving.
Lammel-Harmon says this launch experience will have a lasting effect on CPD’s approach to physical activity programming. “Everyone came together to make May 6 the catalyst for a virtual platform within the Chicago Park District — as well as a great event for all of our patrons city wide.”