PRPS Conference & Expo: Final Journey



The 71st Annual Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society Conference & Expo was held March 27th – March 30th and featured a NEW location at Kalahari Resorts and Convention Center in Pocono Manor, PA.

The 2018 conference and expo hosted about 400 attendees as they embarked on a journey to find the “Spirit of Recreation.” Exciting new vendors, educational sessions, networking opportunities, and fun-filled socials provided a full itinerary as professionals set off on the four-day adventure!

Exhibitors of all shapes and sizes transformed the hall into a jungle of various new equipment, technologies, and professional opportunities. With over 80 vendors and two exciting interactive zones, there was so much for everyone to see! For those who remembered to bring their camera on the trek, the Snap Shot Game was a hit as participants captured images of wild and rare species throughout the expedition. To top it off, the Community Branch Prize Pool featured brand new prizes and helped to raise over $3,500.

As with any great journey, there is always much to learn. Forty-four educational sessions provided professionals with important information on recreation topics and growing trends. Specialized tours delivered an insight to the behind-the-scenes of our host, Kalahari Resorts, and a unique experience on the Pocono Raceway. Motivational Keynote Speakers Marc Mero and Barbara Heller sharing stories of personal triumph and overcoming stressful obstacles left professionals prepared to return to work ready to face any challenge!

Socials embraced the “spirit of friendly competition” this year with an adult Easter Egg Hunt that encouraged conference participants to search eagerly throughout the day and evening. And it did not stop there – the increasingly popular district challenge took the form of a Lip Sync Battle with District 1 claiming the “ALL District Belt!” Even vendors joined in on the challenges this year. And, of course, each night would not have been complete without the great prizes, dancing, and music provided by DJ Special D, Mr. Radio, and DJ Dave Boice.

The Annual Awards Banquet took place on the last evening of the Conference; sponsored by Recreation Resource, USA. A total of 10 Excellence in Recreation and Parks awards were presented and Lancaster Recreation Commission received the Agency of the Year Award. The Distinguished Member Award in Honor of Robert D. Griffith was presented to Karen M. Hegedus of Lower Providence Township, the Outstanding New Professional Award was presented to Robert Jackson of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and the Outstanding Achievement Award in Honor of Fred M. Coombs was awarded to Helen M. Griffith who passed away in January. Congratulations to all the 2018 award winners!

The PRPS Conference hit a new record this year in sponsorship with amazing contributions from General Recreation, Recreation Resource USA, District III, Hershey Park, Grote, Morey’s Piers, and Rock N’Roll Racing. Thank you to all continuing and new sponsors that joined us this year! This adventure could not have been successful without you!

And no summary of the 2018 PRPS Conference expedition would be complete without a huge thank you to the amazing team that helped make it all happen! A committee of 29 professionals dedicated their time and energy throughout the year to guarantee a successful experience for members, vendors, speakers, and sponsors who attended. The PRPS Office Staff were another crucial part of the team, providing guidance, support, and resources throughout the process. Thank you to all the amazing individuals and groups that worked hard to bring the “Spirit of Recreation” to life and to all of you who chose to embark on the journey!



Mentoring: An opportunity for seasoned professionals!



The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2016 projected that recreation worker jobs will grow byth of 10% nationwide through 2024, a rate that exceeds the 7% average for all occupations.   Job growth coupled with the fact that many off us “old timers” are looking at retirement suggests that there will be many new faces and new professionals in the field of recreation and parks.

New professionals coming into the field provides an opportunity for professional mentoring.

What is a mentor?  A mentor is a more seasoned professional who offers his or her time to guide, direct and support the professional development of a new person to the job or field.   Through both formal and informal interactions, the mentor provides guidance and advice to emerging professionals in their respective fields.

The benefits to the protégé or “mentee” are obvious.  Newbies can learn from the experiences of more experienced professionals.  They can gain confidence, improve decision making skills and get support and encouragement through the relationship with the mentor.  Mentors can work with their protégé on everything from professional networking resume building, career path decisions and work site problems and solutions.

Successful professionals often attribute their success and growth in part to a professional mentor.  Ask yourself.  From whom did you learn from and trust to give you guidance in your career development?  Would you be where you are without the support of those who were willing to help you along the way?

Opportunities to mentor can be found in a variety of situations.  Companies often offer mentoring programs when bringing on new employees.  Many universities offer opportunities for alumni-student mentoring.   Penn State puts out a call every year for both students and alumni to participate in the Alumni-Student mentoring program.  We launch the program with an introductory luncheon and then the pairs spend the next year working together.

Professionals organizations like PA Recreation and Park Society offer opportunities for networking at meetings and conferences but can also provide the structure for formal mentoring programs.

Mentoring supports the growth of new professionals but it can also benefit the mentor.

Alex Lyman, in The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring, identifies four ways that mentoring benefits the mentor.  Mentoring can help provide a fresh set of eyes and new perspectives to the programs and services we deliver – and how we deliver them.   Being a mentor can also help develop leadership skills.  Role modeling, coaching, redirection and supervision are both mentor and leadership skills.  Finally, Lyman proposes that mentors are not only reminded of lessons learned in their careers as they “teach” their protégés, mentors can gain new information and insight from their mentees.

Consider offering your experience, knowledge and support to a new professional in the field.  Offer to mentor a student or an intern.  Not only will mentoring help to develop a new parks and recreation professional, mentoring will also help to build our field as it continues to grow.

Be the master of your sportsfields!

As the title may suggest, being the master of your sports fields can be a daunting task, particularly if they are constantly and heavily used. Couple that with a limited budget and it may seem impossible! Don’t panic.

WhilIMG_3539e budget difficulties may seem endless, in the long run, they more than likely are not. Meanwhile, now is the time to prioritize your activities and plan your attack, not only for the short-term but well into the future. A good place to start is to prioritize fields into separate categories such as A, B & C based on the intensity of your management. Then, without putting all your eggs in one basket, manage your best field(s) at the highest level of your ability & resources (category A). This will demonstrate a number of outcomes…

1. Your ability to provide a safe, high-quality sports field.

2. Demonstrate a source of pride for your department and community.

3. It will put credibility to the conversation/justification for your program.

4. It will showcase what could be done elsewhere when proper turf management practices and budgets are in place.

Your “A” field will be your premier field where the championship games are played. The one you want to showcase. This is the field you have a sound fertilization program, regular overseeding, aerate frequently and ensure your fields are irrigated properly if you have those resources.

Finally working with your user groups and your field programmers to limit use if possible. If you can not limit use, possibly limit the field to games as opposed to practices as it has been well documented that practices typically are more damaging than games.

On management levels B & C, you can reduce overall maintenance slightly in several ways. Overall fertilization can be reduced. If your goal is to provide 4lb of nitrogen per year, cut back to 3lb per year and used a slow release type to help evenly distribute the nutrients over the season. The same can be done with weed control. Rather than yearly applications, rotate those applications every other year. Another option may be to aerate only once a year.

Re-working your maintenance program for the B & C level fields by managing them as a “field with-in-a-field” has become a popular way to re-allocate those resources. For example, on a football field, limit your practices to only the worst areas of the field such as between the hash marks. On a soccer field, limit resources to goal areas and center circle. Eliminate or reduce aeration, fertilization & weed control in common turf areas.

Finally, use volunteer groups to help with field maintenance. This usually works best with baseball and softball programs but can work elsewhere. Volunteers or user groups traditionally take a lot of pride in field maintenance. It is amazing to see what can be accomplished on a baseball or softball field with 8 to 10 volunteers on a Saturday morning.

Recreation across Generations

Recently I had a conversation with a resident of a senior living community who told me she LOVED living there. As someone with an elderly parent and in-laws not so enthused about exploring different living options, I was uplifted.

The conversation occurred at the Nippenose Valley Village outside Williamsport in rural Lycoming County — a former red brick elementary school tucked in among farm fields and woods.

The former Nippenose Valley Elementary School closed in 2013. The building and grounds were purchased and refurbished as a personal care home.

The building rehabilitation itself is a cool story, but we were there to highlight the facility as a great model of how to provide opportunities for seniors and young people to interact and stay healthy.

Picture the seniors living in the rehabilitated school having their meals in the dining area immediately adjacent and open to the former gym with basketball court — where community members are walking laps, or kids from the recreational basketball team are practicing.


Facilities at the building are offered for use by the community, including for clubs, athletics and scout groups.

In the coming year, with the help of a DCNR grant, residents getting some fresh air also will be able to watch visiting young family members, or families from the community, play on the upgraded playground equipment and park created from the old school playground.

The playground area was leased by the private owners to Limestone Township, which applied for the grant and provided some of the required match. The funding will support development of play equipment with required safety surfacing, landscaping, and other related site improvements. Future plans could include development of trails and walking paths around the building and grounds.

An internet search tells me that an estimated 50 percent of the U.S. population will be 50 or older this year. Also consider that with stiff competition from organized activities and screens of all types, teenagers, pre-teens and even young children need encouragement to be active like never before.

In the face of pressing public health concerns relating to obesity, adequate places to engage in physical activity are important to all ages.

Some communities are to be applauded for embracing the construction of “multigenerational centers” with amenities that appeal to young and old alike.

Nippenose Valley Park is proof that a smaller scale model, with a healthy dose of creativity, can bring seniors and young people together at a recreational site, offering exercise and wellness for all ages.

The counterfeit dollar story

It’s a warm summer day at the pool – kids are splashing, families are laughing together, and trouble is headed my way.  It’s a busy day, and our front desk staff is processing a large volume of cash transactions, in addition to credit card runs and season pass holders checking in.

One visitor, we’ll call him John Doe, comes to the pool and pays the daily admission fee to swim.  He pays with a $20, and gets the correct change, including a few $1 bills.

Mr. Doe enjoys his afternoon at the pool, then leaves to go do some shopping at a local mega-store.  20 minutes after leaving the pool – he’s back at the front desk.

“YOU GAVE ME COUNTERFEIT BILLS IN CHANGE!” he barks at the desk staff.

The desk staff look at each other – OK this is new, and definitely out of the ordinary.  One staffer, we’ll call him “Dave” just because it’s short for “David” keeps his cool.  “I’m very sorry, sir, but can you let me know what’s going on?”

Mr. Doe continues “I just went to (un-named local mega store) and tried to buy something with the change that YOU gave me HERE at the pool, and they wouldn’t accept the bills!!  They said they were counterfeit!”

Dave asks, “Can I see the bills you’re talking about?”

Mr. Doe produces a single one dollar bill.  “Here.  This…this one.  They refused to take it.  You NEED to call the police!!  This is counterfeit!”


Dave examines the bill.  It looks normal to him – but this is an unusual situation.  “Let me grab my manager – please wait here for a sec.”  Dave gets the manager, who comes over and also examines the dollar bill.

At this point, the manager and Dave ponder several options:

1. Tell the guy he’s full of BS – there’s nothing wrong with the dollar.

2. Take the dollar, write up the incident, and report it to the main parks office, and let the guy know that someone will be back with him shortly.

3. Call the police and start an investigation.

4. Or – what actually happened…

Dave, seeing the line at the gate growing, takes a dollar bill out of his OWN pocket, and offers “Can we trade?  I’ll take yours, this one just came from (unnamed local gas station).”  Mr. Doe looks at the bill, looks at Dave, nods, takes the dollar and leaves.

OK quick break – let’s do some math.  I’ll round up to make myself look more generous, but also to make the math easier.  Let’s say Dave was making $9 per hour, and the manager $10 per hour.  I’m paying staff $19 per hour to resolve this situation (rather than to help other guests or oversee other staff).  I’m paying 32 cents per minute to resolve this – so anything more than about 3 minutes is not worth the time…for a single dollar bill.  Even if they take just 15 minutes to resolve – that’s $4.75 to resolve a one dollar issue!!

Your time, and your staff’s time, have a dollar value that can be applied to tasks – make sure they are being spent wisely.

So kudos to Dave for quick thinking and quick resolution.  We ended up with a satisfied customer and business could continue as normal.  Many of the situations we are faced with can be solved with less time and effort than they are worth – keep your business plan in mind when training your staff.

Epilogue – Dave was able to spend the “counterfeit” dollar with no problems, and he won $5 on a $1 lottery ticket.  Oh, and he also got a raise.

Some people just need a high-five

Picture3“Mr. Roth, your admission policy is awful.  Do you know who I am?  I’m the Dean of (a local university).”

“Mr. Roth, what are you going to do, call the police on me?”

“Mr. Roth, how dare your lifeguards yell at my child.  They’re racist, and so are you!”

“Mr. Roth, I drug tested my daughter and it came up positive for THC.  You’re her boss, what are you going to do about it?”

“Mr. Roth, the spray features in your pool keep hitting my child!”

“Mr. Roth, you should be fired!”

Ahhh the public.  Don’t get me wrong – the vast majority of the people we serve are wonderful citizens who are generally grateful for the facilities and programs that they are able to utilize.  The VAST majority.  I tell my staff that out of 130,000 visits to our pools in a given summer, we’ll have about 20 really unhappy patrons.  That’s 0.015% unhappy visitors – or on the flip side – 99.985% success!  That’s pretty darn good.

So WHY do the unhappy ones cause us so much grief and take up SO MUCH of our time?  Some patrons are just hot and tired, and some, well some just like to argue.  Some just want something free – and have learned that if they make enough noise they’ll usually get it!

We often struggle to effectively respond to customers when we feel that we are right, and /or when the customer is an idiot.  I’m using idiot here in lieu of several other words.

Is the customer always right?  If you’re working in a for-profit industry that may be an easy answer.  For tax-funded facilities or programs it may be more complex.  Oversight of these may need to consider:

a. Can we just give away free stuff to make a problem customer go away?  Some tax-funded entities may not be able to do this.

b. Is there a slippery slope – if I give in to one customer, do I have to do the same every time this happens?

c. Professionally I KNOW I am right and the customer is wrong.

d. Is anyone’s safety at risk – or is there any liability exposure to a decision either way?

In the long run we as professionals need to realize that these issues are not likely going away.  We can tweak policies and procedures each year to try to minimize them, but we’ll need to have some strategies to help.  Here are some ideas:

1. Recognize that it’s not personal.  You’re just the face of the organization.  Keep the emotion out of it so that you can calmly and rationally work through the issue.  (I recognize that this may be a phenomenal challenge in the heat of a discussion).

2. Keep your overall goal in mind.  Safety should always be #1.  Responsibility to your company, department, brand, and tax-payers are next.  Giving away free stuff may not always be the most responsible course if you rely on tax dollars for funding, but there will be times when it is the most effective way to resolve the situation.

3. Have a social media response plan.  Unhappy customers will bash you anywhere they can.  Have procedures in place to handle that.

4. Keep the value of your time, and your staff time in mind.  Are you or your staff spending an hour of their time (let’s say at $10 or $20 per hour) to resolve a $4 issue?  Or are there some issues that are worth fighting for, regardless of the cost?

On the flip side – understand that at some point you may be threatened with legal action.  Legal fees typically START in the $2,500-$3,000 range, just to sit down with an attorney.  Is your resolution of an issue worth that?

Every situation is different.  Every customer is different.  Over time, and with help from our fellow professionals, we can hopefully find strategies to work through them.  For the record – the quotes at the beginning were all real and each came with a wonderful story, and each was resolved in a different manner.  In each case, when it was resolved, I went to the pool, took a deep breath, and found my solace in seeing that vast majority of people – who were just happy to have a great swimming pool to enjoy on a sunny afternoon.


Hidden keys to fundraising

What do Recreation professionals lose sleep over?INPE0863

One of the top reasons is “fundraising”…

The things that run through our heads are: “where is the money going to come from?”, “how can I raise $40,000 more than last year”, “why don’t the elected officials realize how unrealistic this is?” or even “how will I fit it in?”

Suppose you find the time and put a great deal of effort into fundraising, but the results are still not as you hoped or need them to be. What’s going on?

There are two places to look: Evaluate your customer service and evaluate your public relations.

Let’s look at each one:

Customer Service: Spend time in your own facilities observing both how your staff interacts with the customers, and how the customers react or behave in return. Look closely at your facilities – the cleanliness, the efficiency, the clarity of your signs, etc. Is it a pleasurable and memorable experience to be in your facilities? Do the staff know the names of repeat customers and have the materials and information they need to provide excellent service?

Wait – are we talking about Customer Service or Fundraising? BOTH.

The perceived service a customer experiences when they interact with your department is directly related to their interest and willingness to further support your fundraising efforts.

Use every opportunity of customer complaint to address concerns and questions as a way to explain the underlying need for the fundraising you do. For example, a customer is complaining about the high cost of a dance class or boating lessons. Take a moment to educate them, in a positive way, about the overall costs, what their fee covers and how funds raised from the community supplement tax dollars.

Most importantly – begin to clarify for people that tax dollars cover the basics and keep the lights on, fundraising covers the rest. If you are a tax based agency that is now also expected to fundraise, as many of you are, it’s even trickier to surmount this. (If you are not a tax-based agency, this technique still works to explain the difference between the basics and doing more.)

Overall, providing excellent service and experiences directly impacts future fundraising.

Public Relations: Now, look at your Public Relations and your department’s public image. If you are known for mistakes on your webpage, mis-information published in your program guide, mix ups with refunds, and late cancellations of programs, the public feeling about your department is going to impact their giving when you ask. (By the way, are you asking? That will be a future blog post, perhaps…)

If you’ve had bad press over park issues or zoning changes impacted the neighbors, if there was an accident at a pool that the local newspaper spun into a media crisis, you have work to do before you fundraise.

How can you address this? Promote strongly as many positives as you can. Share happy faces at summer camp, happy customers at the pool, and racing puppies at the dog park. Gather and promote customer quotes about service and commitment. Coordinate positive news stories with local media outlets. Post videos on your social media and enlist trusted patrons to do so also. Send your Director out into the community, like the mayor, to get to know the public. Do anything you can to promote a better image.

All of this is more important than fundraising if you have a negative public image. If you’re not sure, ask a few people outside your organization that you trust and start there.

Later, when you outline the case for why your department needs support, the public – made up of happy customers who have a positive view of your department as a vital part of the community – are more likely to give.

If you’re trying to fundraise and the results are not as you hope, take a different view and start strengthening relationships first.