FAIRMONT — When the pandemic put many people out of work, the staff at the Skate-A-Way transformed into a new hub where others could get help.
While the rink had to close during the initial coronavirus shutdown, its owners used the time to pack food boxes to give to families in need, an effort that quickly became popular.
“At one point in the spring when we started this, we were feeding 100 families a week,” said Ashley Ice, manager of the Skate-A-Way. “It was amazing, the donations were amazing and we continue to still take donations.”
The Skate-A-Way was able to reopen for skating in September, but the social aid the rink’s staff provided kept going. That's when Ice started the Jr. Roller Club, which has since morphed into an all-day club that resembles a camp that aims to provide students of all ages with activities and homework help.
“We have tutors and teachers available on-site to help the kids complete any school work that they have to do, whether it’s distance learning, blended learning or home schooling,” Ice said. “We offer breakfast and lunch and a snack that we provide for them. We do crafts, we do skating, games, we watch movies, we have people come in and read books.”
The Jr. Roller Club runs from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and costs $35 a week per child, Ice said. She also said that while the program is not officially affiliated with Marion County Schools, she has received positive feedback from some parents, teachers and administrators about the Jr. Roller Club.
“We are not with the Marion County Board of Education in any way, but they do support us in what we’re doing for the community, students and the parents and families,” Ice said. “It started out really slow, but over the last couple weeks it has picked up. It’s just a great program, we had a lot of fun getting it going.”
In addition to receiving praise from local residents and school officials, the City of Fairmont declared the Skate-A-Way its Business of the Month for October.
“One of the initiatives behind the Business of the Month campaign is to highlight hidden gems in Fairmont,” said Alex Petry, coordinator of the Business of the Month program for the city. “I feel like Skate-A-Way is a perfect example of one of those hidden gems. It has been there for over 70 years; they literally have been successful with the same business model for pretty much their entire existence.”
Petry also said the skating rink houses a pleasant environment that encourages fun and activity, no matter when you step inside.
“You walk in there and it’s just like a portal to the past,” Petry said. “You become just immersed in the vibrant colors and the disco lights and hardwood skating floor. I just think it’s a really, really unique business.”
The Jr. Roller Club is a helpful initiative for all residents of Fairmont, seeing that many people have been affected and are in need because of the pandemic.
“I think that is a great opportunity for folks who are struggling with today’s climate and landscape,” Petry said. “The fact they provide those resources I think is a really great and beneficial thing.”
Ice said the feedback she has received from parents has been some of the best the business has ever gotten. While the Jr. Roller Club offers kids entertainment and fun, it is especially beneficial now that many other avenues for activity are unavailable to kids.
“It gives them exercise,” Ice said. “A lot of the parents thank me come the next morning, ‘My kids were so tired; they went home, they had dinner, they didn’t have to stress over school work, they went to bed and slept great and were excited to go back the next day.’” Ice said the Skate-A-Way has other initiatives in the works, including a coat drive and its annual Skate with Santa event, in addition to its food pantry. She said she is just happy to have the rink back open after five months, because many regular customers had missed being there.
“We haven’t been open for very long, but thankfully, we have been able to see a lot of those familiar faces,” Ice said. “We missed our regular customers a lot. A lot of kids depend on us, and we’re glad to be back open.”
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