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Community Services Director Terrel Harrison. (File photo by Chris Frost)
Sunday, April 19, 2020

By Chris Frost



Oxnard-- The Cultural and Community Services Committee received a report April 14, on the Cultural and Community Services's response to the COVID 19 pandemic.


Director Terrel Harrison updated the committee and said usually, people think of the department doing recreation activities for the youth and seniors, plus operating the Oxnard libraries and arts programs.


The department closed its senior centers, RSVP Programs, the Oxnard Special Population Program, and the city's boxing gyms because of COVID 19.


"On March 13, we had to close our libraries and all of the rest of our gyms, our City Corps youth program, our preschool classes, our after school programs, and our recreation classes," he said. "We know the community relies on these programs as a whole, and they enhance the quality of life for our citizens in Oxnard."


That raised the question about how the department moves forward, he said, and still provide some services to the community.


Oxnard Public Library


Library Manager Sofia Kimsey told the committee that the library is closely tied to the community's quality of life.


"The library builds relationships and creates opportunities within the community and helps grow our residents into vibrant community members," she said. 


The Oxnard Library system was one of the first to react to the COVID 19 pandemic, she said, and the staff kicked into gear to seek ways to continue providing free information and services to the community while they sheltered in place.


"You will be proud to know that our library staff provides similar services to what our patrons usually receive coming into the library, but they are doing this from the safety of their home," she said. "During the crisis, the services the Oxnard Public Library provides are essential to the community."


The Oxnard Public Library posts virtual storytimes on Facebook and Instagram.


"Storytimes are interactive ways that parents can encourage their little ones to continue to read," she said. "The books we are sharing have all received permission from publishers to present to our viewers online, and are available through our website to check out virtually. This week, we had a special birthday storytime for children. We reached over 135 different community members. That is way more than we would be able to fit into our main library event room."


The virtual book discussion allows kids ages kindergarten through the third grade to interact with one of the children's librarians and discuss books. 


"She will pick a topic, and they will discuss it," she said. "We try to refer our children to some of our resources; they can check out with their library card."


The virtual homework center has a staff that works out of the main branch and South Oxnard, and they still tutor children from kindergarten through the 12th grade on any questions they have. Students can email the library at library@oxnard.org, or the staff can take their phone calls directly and get tutoring over the phone.


"We have lots of online resources that will help students, parents, as well as teachers on our website," she said. 


The library also has a book talk discussion posted on social media.


"Last week, we posted a fiction book talk on several recently published mysteries, as well as separate posts on exercise and running while we are in isolation," she said. "Our book discussions are for all ages. They wet the appetite of the listener to try out different formats and content online."


Kimsey said the library is adding to its digital library content almost daily, and it's active.


"We've been working with our statewide consortium and providing electronic resources to the community at no charge during this time," she said. "We've added additional career exploration apps. We have an Asian language periodical electronic resource and statewide access to one of our e-book platforms that provides an additional 70,000 e-book titles, in addition to our large e-book collection already."


The library also added a career app through the end of June, she said, which is free through the statewide consortium.


"As our community gets back to normal, the app will assist them to find the right career path, as well as help them develop personal budgets," she said. "In addition, we're adding Asian language periodicals at no cost to the city in the next two months."


The Oxnard library staff has beefed up its social media presence.


"Our social media is really on fire right now," she said. "We're meeting our community where they are. The librarians have been working from home, and many of our Instagram posts have engaged up to 400 people each."


The e-content allows residents to view movies and listen to music and read books with their library card.


"There are also children's books and materials in English and Spanish," she said. "COVID 19 has brought to the forefront a demand for online content."


The city is waiving library fines because of the COVID pandemic and patrons should keep their library materials until the problem is over.


"We're also registering patrons by phone, so if people don't have a library card, all they have to do is pick up a phone and call us, so they can use resources through our website," she said. "We're suspending the need for identification so that we can provide these services."




Recreation Coordinator Rene Rakestraw updated the committee and said her team looked hard at how they can bring programs into the resident's homes.


The department has a youth mentoring program for kids ages 12-17 at the Oxnard Police Activities League under the Youth Director's Council. They usually meet with the mentors once a week.


"We're now taking those meetings to a virtual level via Hangout and Zoom," she said. "We also moved our recreation programs into what we're calling Oxnard Rec at home. There are daily postings on all of our social media outlets, activities that can be done at home, and we have a weekly campaign. This week's activity is chalk it up, so we're encouraging people to go out and write encouraging messages and do activities with chalk and share it with us using the hashtag."


The recreation department had a virtual Easter Egg hunt last week.


"Every week, we have a new campaign," she said. "With our afterschool program staff, we are providing videos with activities. It will be a familiar face kids will see in the afterschool programs via the activities kids see."


The Oxnard Special Populations went virtual, she said, and they put together supply packets that participants can stop by and pick up.


"Once a week, they'll be participating in virtual art classes," she said. "They have all the supplies at home to participate. They can log in once a week to our Oxnard Special Populations social media and participate."


The recreation team remains committed to supporting the citywide food distribution effort.


"There are a few websites for the Oxnard School District, the Hueneme School District, the El Rio School District, and the Oxnard High School District, and all four of those districts are providing lunch for children ages 1-18 Mon. through Fri," she said. "Their schedules get updated weekly, so I encourage the community to visit those websites directly for information. We also have food distribution going on for seniors. What would usually be served at the Wilson and Palm Vista Senior centers as a hot lunch, we are now serving as a hot meal to go. Anyone interested can call 805-385-8029 to reserve your meal ahead of time. You can pick up that meal at 11:30 a.m Mon through Fri."


Home delivered meals are also available for seniors, she said, and more information and an application are available by calling 805-385-8029.


"We have our pantries, senior kits, and popup sites in collaboration with Food Share," she said. More information can be found at foodshare.com."


Committee Member Oscar Madrigal commented that he hears many positive things being done by the department.


"I know this is a difficult time," he said. 


Committee Member Gabriela Basua asked if the weekly update information about all the services is available on the city's website.


"There is a lot of information with the library, and they're doing great things," she said. "You guys are all doing a wonderful job, and I am wondering if there is information on our website."


Each of the divisions is posting on their social media sites," Assistant City Manager Ashley Golden said.


For people without smartphones, they can get recreation information by calling 805-385-7995. For library information, call 805-385-7532.


“Our county is doing a pretty good job trying to flatten the curve," Chairwoman Carmen Ramirez said. "We can't be complacent and let our guard down. My concern is for people who didn't get the message. We need to get our Spanish language radio stations to talk about these things."

Coronavirus Resources for Ventura County