Due to COVID-19, pilot communities are adapting their campaigns to help people stay safe while they get active. This series highlights local events and initiatives from the community pilot program — including creative ways to promote physical activity during social distancing.
This installment highlights successful campaign strategies that Active Southern West Virginia (Active SWV) is using to promote physical activity both online and in person.
Pilot community at a glance: Southern West Virginia
Community type: Urban and rural
Population estimate: 352,417 people (across 6 counties)
Lead agency: Active Southern West Virginia
Lead agency mission: Provide an ecosystem of physical activity for the residents of southern West Virginia by offering programs led by trained volunteers from within the communities they serve
Lead agency website: https://activeswv.org/move-your-way
Going Virtual from the Get-Go
When Active Southern West Virginia (Active SWV) was gearing up for their Move Your Way community campaign, they planned to build on their successful Kids Run Club — a 6-to-8-week after-school running program for local kids.
But when COVID-19 emerged in the spring, Active SWV swiftly pivoted to a Virtual Kids Run Club to help kids stay active during West Virginia’s stay-at-home orders. “The goal was to provide kids with resources and encourage them to still be active for 60 minutes a day,” says Melanie Seiler, executive director of Active SWV.
They invited kids to log their activity each week through an online app. And to foster a sense of community during social distancing, Active SWV grouped kids in virtual teams with their schoolmates and helped their families stay connected through Facebook.
Bringing In-Person Options Back into the Mix
As West Virginia began the reopening process, Active SWV found a safe way to add in-person programming back into their campaign strategy: no-touch outdoor obstacle courses at local food distribution sites.
Seiler says these courses give kids a “sampler” of the Kids Run Club core components: a dynamic warm-up, a main running activity, and a cool-down with stretching. Yard signs with graphics guide kids through the activity stations, and hula hoops placed on the ground help kids maintain a safe distance within the course.
Active SWV successfully piloted the obstacle courses over the summer, and now they’re expanding the program by creating and distributing no-touch obstacle course kits to partners. Seiler says that with fewer people volunteering to coach run clubs during the pandemic, this kit model will help them reach more kids with limited staff.
Partnering with Libraries for Greater Reach
Active SWV has also reached out to local libraries to meet kids where they are. For example, they provided a no-touch obstacle course kit to the bookmobile program at Summers County Public Library in Hinton, West Virginia. Now, when kids come to access books and free Wi-Fi, they can also get their daily dose of physical activity.
Seiler says they’re also planning to partner with libraries across the state for a 6-week movement challenge. Libraries can participate by displaying campaign materials, posting on social media, and encouraging patrons to get active and track their progress through a free online platform. Library teams can then compete to log the most activity within 6 weeks.
“Libraries are really strong partners because they’re viewed as a reliable source of media,” Seiler says.
Looking Ahead to More Virtual Opportunities
Seiler says that Active SWV will keep offering virtual programs in the future. “The community has gotten more accustomed to looking online for information during the pandemic,” she says.
Active SWV is leaning into online outreach by creating Facebook groups for specific activities and highlighting volunteers and participants on the Active SWV blog and in Facebook posts. They’re also creating online resources to help people establish an at-home workout routine — something Seiler thinks will be especially important during the coming winter months.
“We’ll keep offering virtual options regardless of in-person capacity,” she says. “Some people are going to take a long time to come back to in-person experiences — and that’s okay. We have the tools now to meet them where they are.”