Chelsea Community Education is Riding a Wave of Resurgence


In a recent address to the Chelsea City Council on May 22, Andrew Thompson, Director of Chelsea Community Education, provided an overview of his department's activities, ongoing initiatives, and future plans.

Community Education, a branch of the Chelsea School District, adopted the recreation council's operations in 2014. As Thompson illustrated, the partnership between the city and school district continues to strengthen, entering its second decade. The department primarily manages most of the city's recreational facilities, such as gymnasiums, pools, and several baseball fields. Meanwhile, the city sustains Weber Field's two ball fields and the Timber Town sand volleyball courts.

The parks and recreational facilities received substantial improvements in recent years. Notably, the Weber Fields underwent renovation in 2017-2018, featuring new dugouts with a copper penny roof style that harmonizes with the aesthetic of Pierce Park's pavilion. The project, Thompson reported, received overwhelmingly positive feedback.

The department's collaboration with the Parks and Recreation Commission includes a designated seat for the community education and recreation coordinator. As such, Thompson actively participates in the group, despite not being a city resident. The director also touched on budgetary matters, highlighting that the city's $10,000 contribution represented about 7% of the total recreation department budget this year.

The past few years have been a recovery period following the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city's parks budget has seen substantial growth, which Thompson viewed as a positive development. The department is bouncing back despite a considerable loss in 2019-2020 due to the pandemic.

Aside from recreation, Community Education Department also oversees various other programs. They run after-school enrichment programs for children and adults and manage multiple facilities within the school district. Their summer camp is expected to accommodate around 100 children daily this year. Moreover, the department administers an early childhood center and two auditoriums.

The recreation budget constitutes about 15% of the department's total budget, nearing $1 million. This figure increased significantly from the annual budget of $60,000-$70,000 in 2012. Despite the administrative costs being higher than desired, Thompson intends to increase the range of programs offered in the coming year. He concluded his presentation by reflecting on the department's growth and foreshadowing prospects.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, community-based recreational programs have demonstrated resilience and continued growth. The majority of these programs are reaching decade-long highs by surpassing participation rates from pre-pandemic years. These increases are a testament to the hard work of the local community and the effectiveness of our rejuvenation strategies.

This renaissance in participation results from the unyielding commitment of the Chelsea School District and the city, offering their community numerous athletic and enrichment activities. Little League participation is the highest since 2013, with 323 children participating this year. Likewise, soccer and basketball have seen massive participation jumps, and basketball will be offered for the first time in the summer.

Efforts to streamline and centralize functions have led to implementation of a user-friendly registration and facilities system. This singular platform lets parents easily sign up for any activity and pay directly from their phones. In addition, there is now a public-facing calendar for community members to view available facilities, thereby improving efficiency and accessibility.

Collaboration remains an integral part of Community Ed’s work. They continue to partner with neighboring communities, such as Ann Arbor and Jackson County, for various programs. However, the cessation of Chelsea United Way, a long-standing supporter of scholarship funds, has led them to seek new partners to help ensure access to their programs for all community members.

Despite this loss, the program’s commitment remains unwavering: no child has been turned away from a program for financial reasons. Local service groups like the Kiwanis and Rotary Club have stepped up, constantly seeking ways to support programming and facilities. Further collaborations with Five Healthy Towns Foundation and the farmers market have enriched Community Ed’s summer camp experiences.

Thompson explained that the group’s future focus is on expanding the use of online platforms and finding ways to make it even more user-friendly. Community Ed is committed to growing both recreational and enrichment programming. Thompson eagerly anticipates sharing the success of their new programs and initiatives in April 2024.

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