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Ready for (in-person) recreation: Bethany Ortmann on keeping it together

In the first couple of months of 2020, when the COVID-caused shutdown of in-person services provided by Shelter Island Town was looming, Director of Recreation Bethany Ortmann realized priorities and plans were needed.

After consultation with other town officials, all agreed the first priority was keeping everyone on staff safe. Next was how to continue to serve the Island’s residents. And finally, how to keep the department’s personnel employed.

The last was done by shifting people to take on part-time work at the IGA, the Food Pantry and other venues, Ms. Ortmann said about her staff. Safety protocols were provided to all town employees and rigorously enforced. “Then we had to figure out how to provide our services without any in-person contact,” Ms. Ortmann said.

Everyone had to be brought up to speed on virtual communication, navigating Zoom and other computerized sessions. “We sent out weekly emails to Islanders of all ages on workouts on Zoom and yoga and Zumba,” she said. “We wanted to keep people in a familiar place, and keep them connected.”

Ms. Ortmann realized how the necessity of recreation, sports and physical activity would become essential with a lack of human contact and stress brought on by a frightening new illness that was stalking communities.

And it wasn’t just about emotional well-being. A report in the journal, “Perspectives on Psychological Science,” revealed that social isolation and loneliness, in the long term, resulted in health effects comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Britain’s Newcastle University found that loneliness without respite increased people’s risk of stroke or developing coronary heart disease by up to 30%. Other studies showed that social isolation substantially increased the risk of early death.

It’s also been noted by physicians and researchers that a regular schedule of physical activity will reduce the use of alcohol and other substances, and will give a spike to the immune system, which helps fight off the risk of catching infectious illnesses.

One of the definitions of recreation from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “refreshment of strength and spirits,” a goal for any time, but even more so now.

With all this in mind, the Recreation Department took action in the early days of the pandemic with full programs of online services. Now, with the Island approaching herd immunity due to following strict guidelines on masks and social distancing, plus nearly 70% of the Island’s population vaccinated, the Recreation Department has opened up with an extensive schedule of in-person activities.

The FIT Center is now open, with one important piece of new equipment, Ms. Ortmann said. A new Power Rack has been installed, replacing the old one, which is much safer than its predecessor. Another important upgrade is that the Community Center at the American Legion Hall is being set up for air conditioning.

Ms. Ortmann, who has been on the job here for four years, has substantial experience working in recreation and athletics, both with youth and senior citizens. She served as camp nurse and then head counselor at the Art Farm Day Camp in Bridgehampton and served as recreation leader for senior services in upstate Victor, N.Y. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies and a Master of Arts in Communication, both of which she received from the State University of New York at Brockport.

An athlete and coach — “volleyball is my passion” — Ms. Ortmann said these days her activities in her off hours are taken up by daughter Olivia, born 16 months ago. “That’s my occupation now,” she said.

For what’s on tap for this summer, sponsored by the Shelter Island Recreation Department, go to shelterislandtown.us/recreation.