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A different summer for the MLK Center in Rockville Centre

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Every Wednesday and Friday, staff members at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Center in Rockville Centre have been turning the recreation room into a roller rink.

During a typical year, the MLK Center summer program’s 5- to 12-year-olds would go on trips to skating arenas and amusement parks. But “this year is, of course, a little different from previous summers” due to coronavirus, said Patrick Morris, director of the MLK Center. The day camp children are not going on any field trips, and their activities are limited to inside the MLK Center and outdoors at Rev. Morgan Days Park.

So, since the kids miss roller skating, the MLK Center staff brought it to them. “We’re just being very creative,” Morris said. “The kids have been coming here over the past few summers and miss the opportunity to go on trips.”

In past years the program hosted 80 to 90 children with 25 staff members; however, this year it has been limited to 25 students and 12 staff. While fewer children are easier to handle, the new safety guidelines have been an adjustment, Morris said. All campers must wear masks while indoors and social distance six feet apart while outdoors.

Children participate in various activities, such as arts and crafts, board games, riding scooters, relay races and playing in sprinklers at the park. The program runs Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Morris noted that the program has provided much relief to families whose children have been stuck at home for months after school became remote in March.

“It was needed because parents were ready for kids to be outside and into a program,” Morris said. “We wanted to provide that support to parents and kids who wanted to get out of the house.”

The MLK Center has also been running a pop-up food pantry during the crisis. Each Friday it provides for about 60 families in need, many of whom have lost employment due to coronavirus shutdowns.

The food pantry is open each Friday morning. Sharon Sheppard, assistant director of the MLK Center, and members from the Anti-Racism Project and Sisterhood of Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth have been helping to coordinate the effort. Local business owners and community members have been donating food, and the pantry still seeks food donations.