Although the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Community Recreation programs at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Hampton Roads had to physically close their doors in March of last year when the COVID-19 pandemic initially hit, they were still able to connect and support their military families in a very creative and unique way.
One very popular and well-received approach was in the form of Do-it-Yourself (DIY) kit drive-thru events hosted at Headquarters Annex, Portsmouth Annex and Northwest Annex.
“It was important for us to continue to create a sense of community and connection with our service members and their families,” said Kelley Harkins, MWR director at NSA Hampton Roads. “We strive to continue to provide activities and events that are innovative and high quality, in this new environment.”
Over the past several months, the community recreation teams have put together various DIY drive-thru events to include resin art, Valentine canvas, gingerbread house, door hanger, holiday activity book, slime, ice cream in a bag, face mask, air plant terrariums and pizza. Each kit comes with all the necessary materials, instructions and contact information.
“My hopes are to create a bit of fun during these dark times,” said Ashley Carter, community recreation director at NSA Hampton Roads-Portsmouth Annex. “Although I miss being able to host our usual events, I hope that our families are able to bring that fun home with them by engaging everyone with these DIY events.”
Over the past year, the three annexes have hosted various DIY drive-thru pick up events as many people found themselves spending a lot more time at home due to last year’s stay-at-home mandate. These projects allowed families to spend time together, feel less isolated, and have fun in a safe environment.
“We are trying to provide the families with a little sense of normalcy,” said Eric Emerson, community recreation programmer at NSA Hampton Roads-Headquarters Annex. “We are trying to duplicate our normal programming as much as we can.”
That normal programming was modified in a significant way as MWR was forced to close their facilities, change their services, and cancel all events when COVID-19 hit in March 2020.
“Our facilities play an essential role in quality of life. We create opportunities to relax, relieve stress, and support overall physical fitness or wellness, so having to make the decision to close weighed very heavily on us as the only possible outlet for our service members and their families,” said Harkins. “Also, ensuring we took care of our staff; ensuring we would be able to retain our staff and not worry about reductions in force was very concerning. The team jumped right into action completing special projects and offering virtual programs and events to stay engaged and validate our importance to the fleet.”
Brainstorming ideas and putting together all of the elements for these DIY events was definitely not a small task and involved support from each of the community recreation teams.
“We work with our team to develop ideas for the events, reach out to vendors to see what they can supply, develop an action plan with the team on how to execute it in a COVID-19 environment, and adjust as necessary during set up and execution of the event when problems arise,” said Travis Scott, community recreation director at NSA Hampton Roads-Northwest Annex.
Carter said she enjoys the planning process for each DIY project, which are geared towards children, adults, and also families.
“My goal is to offer new and unique crafts that maybe people would not normally try on their own,” she said. “For inspiration I do a lot of research online and have joined a lot of crafting groups on social media. I ask my kids what type of projects they would like and I have also worked with a few local businesses on putting DIY kits together.”
All that hard work has paid off as many families have really appreciated MWR hosting these events.
Military spouse Amanda Blakeslee has attended many of the events at River’s Edge Community Center at Portsmouth Annex.
“With COVID-19, [my daughter] has been stuck inside a lot and is very discouraged,” she said. “The staff is amazing and always seems happy to see us.”
Blakeslee said she enjoyed the tie dye t-shirt DIY event because it was fun and it provided her daughter with something that she is able to wear.
“[These events] really help with morale and give the kids something to look forward to,” she said. “It also helps the parents with new and fun activities to do with the children.”
Military spouse and frequent DIY event patron Diana Molina agrees.
“They have become a tradition with the kids. It is a way of escaping the COVID life,” she said. “We have been in the area for just a few months and we don’t have family or friends here. With the cold weather, these activities are awesome to pass the time with the kids.”
Molina also appreciates spending that time with her family and having a day set aside to do a fun activity.
“Arts and crafts help the overall family. For us, it reduces stress. It gives us a chance to create something together; to have a challenge,” she said. “To have these events every month, it also gives us a sense of routine; of normalcy. With the schools being back and forth from online to in-person, the kids really look forward to the Friday DIYs.”
Typically the events are executed with very few setbacks, except sometimes the inevitable inclement weather.
“The only challenge would be weather conditions, either being super cold or rainy on the day of the event,” said Emerson. “But we always push through and the customers still come out to our events, even in bad weather, and they are really appreciative.”
In addition to the various DIY events, MWR has also hosted other drive-thru and virtual events to include a Valentines’ Day dinner, drive-in movie, virtual escape room, haunted harvest drive thru, and an Illumination Celebration.
“Our team did not skip a beat when the world turned upside down. They jumped into action and have sustained high levels of engagement throughout the year,” said Harkins. “Their passion and dedication to our mission has never weaned. They are an exceptional team and I am so proud of the hard work, positivity and flexibility they have displayed over the last year.”