The Black and Gold(en) Rule

Recently I attended a training on workplace harassment. While I was familiar with most of the “do’s and don’ts” I was surprised to find out that I’m now in a protected age range. (Look ma’, I made it!) Fear not, I don’t plan to discuss the merits of a 40ish year old being age protected. As I’m still in the beginning stage of my ascent up 40 mountain, I’m fortunate enough to have never experienced that on a personal level.

As happens when I’m presented with something new, I try to look at all sides, to include the inverse. This rabbit hole dive, led me to think about all the young people we employee and how vital they are to our seasonal operations. Perhaps it was recently reading Kristin’s blog last week, or the seasonal staff that are beginning to trickle in the office to say hi while they’re home from break. How do seasoned supervisors and co-workers treat new-to-the workforce or less experienced young people?

New York Islanders v Boston Bruins

It reminded me of something I heard last summer.  During the Stanley Cup playoff run, Zedeno Chara, the 42 year old captain of the Boston Bruins, was asked about some of the younger Bruins. He responded,

“If I can help them in any way I’d love to. Age doesn’t really separate the conversations or the personalities. I’ve been saying that for a long time.

We are treating everybody the same way no matter if somebody is 18, or 40, or somebody has 1,000 games or is playing in their first game. We treat everybody with respect in the same way as everybody else in the locker room. I’ve said it many times. Since a very young age, I didn’t like the separation in a team between young players and older players, [or] players who have accomplished something or players that are just coming into the league. I don’t like to use the word ‘rookie.’ They are our teammates. I just don’t like to separate. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. Once you’re a team, you’re a team regardless of the age, or accomplishments. We have to treat each other with respect and the same way.”

Big Z’s advice is spot on. There’s so much good stuff in there.  The word he uses multiple times is “respect.” How we treat each other is something I’ve always believed to be of major value, not just in our profession, but I think it’s pretty safe to say is a universal advantage. We can’t treat our teenage staff or young adults any differently than anyone else.

Talk with them like you would talk to your closest peer with 20+ years experience. Notice I said “with” and not “to?” There are two parts to talking with someone, the talking part, and the LISTENING part. Listening to your young staff is far more valuable than droning on about the “good old days.” More often than not, you will come away with a better understanding of that person, or maybe you’ll learn something yourself.

Be patient as you train them and give them the tools needed to succeed. Try to remember when you didn’t have “all the answers.” Be an example through your actions and show them the work ethic you needed to get where you are. Treating them kindly, fairly, yet still with high expectations and clearly defined goals will provide opportunities for a more productive team and healthier work force.

Putting the HUMAN Back in Leadership

2019 Carlisle Community Pool Management and Lifeguard Staff

We are all born into this life with the same perspective, the HUMAN perspective.  We all want the same things, to feel connected and cared for, wherever we are in life, and that includes our time at work.  I hope that your perception, at least at some point in your life up to now, was formed with love, and not only receiving but also giving love.  Maybe up to this point, you haven’t really learned how to show someone that you care about him or her.  You might think “Well sure, I say I love you to my family, but I can’t do that with my employees, so what do you want me to do?” My hope is that this article will help you learn how you can show that you care about your team. If you are already showing lots of love to your crew, this article will provide you with some good reminders to help keep your team feeling valued, appreciated, connected and in turn are productive in their work.

To keep the HUMAN perspective will take a conscious effort every day and you will probably need some help along the way.  You can do research and read books on communication, mindfulness, relationships and leadership; and learn even more by attending workshops and conferences.  I have developed an easy acronym to help guide your way back to putting the HUMAN back in your leadership.

H – Be HELPFUL.  Answer questions and offer assistance to your team.  Communicate.  However, before you speak ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, and is it helpful.

U – UNDERSTAND your team.  Ask questions and listen to understand.  Find out what drives them. 

M – Create MEANINGFUL connections with your team.  Inquire about their personal life.  Send a thank you text for all their hard work lately.  Make them a card for their work anniversary.

A – ACKNOWLEDGE and celebrate accomplishments, and ACKNOWLEDGE mistakes as lessons, not only in your team but for yourself as well.

N – NEVER stop caring.  Be considerate, empathetic and encouraging.

Remember that your perspective changes over time, mainly by the people who influence your life like family and friends, your experiences, and your environment – like home, school, church, and work.  Many of these factors also change over time.  All of a sudden, you may have forgotten that we are all HUMAN.  You may be caught up in the hustle and bustle of work.  Your once open mind narrows, and you begin to harden and stop leading with your heart.  For example, you might have started limiting communication with certain team members or realize you have only been acknowledging negative things with a certain employee lately.

If those examples don’t sound like you, I am sure you have either had or heard of the boss who never said they were sorry or even talked about their mess-ups, never celebrated those huge projects you worked so hard on, or never really listened.  I have listed a few examples of a leader with poor judgement, unfortunately, there are many of these cases, and nonetheless I think you get the picture.  

Most of the time, those bad bosses never let their pride or their ego down, to lead with their heart.  In the moment, they care more about being “right” than being considerate, they’re more focused on work than the problems someone else might be facing or they are just not brave enough to be vulnerable with their own lives.  If they were, they would show you that underneath it all, they really do care.

If you are ashamed to admit it, and you have been “that person” lately, it is never too late to start showing that you care about your team.  We all have bad days; where we haven’t been able to see past our noses, so don’t be too hard on yourself.  Your team is ready to feel connected and cared for.  However, if you don’t start to treat them as HUMANS, they will go work somewhere else, maybe even sabotage your job or if nothing else, they will certainly bring down the rest of the team.  

You might read all this and think, “well there’s work to be done and I don’t have time to chat or celebrate every project.”  Showing that you care doesn’t mean chatting the day away or celebrating every little thing.  But just a quick “How’s your mom doing today?” or ask them “How do you feel about doing that report you submitted last week?”. Just by inquiring (personal or work related), will show them that you care. Questions = Caring (in most cases and especially if you’re listening to UNDERSTAND, not just to respond). Remember that if you don’t ACKNOWLEDGE your team’s hard work, they may not put in as much effort next time.  

You might think showing that you care, means letting things slide or allowing people to do less than what is expected of them.  What I really mean is that you need to think before you speak so you are respectful, ask questions and work to understand the situation and your team.  These tips on communicating are really the first steps to creating a MEANINGFUL connection and normally allow opportunity for you to be HELPFUL.  Then you can build that connection through acknowledgement.  But remember most importantly, NEVER stop caring about those you work with.  You are capable of all of this and together, we can put the HUMAN back in leadership. 

Brene Brown has a new book “Dare to Lead” where you can learn more about “Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts…Daring Greatly and Rising Strong at Work”. 

Parks & Recreation in the Plastic Age

As humans, we have lived through the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, but now have unofficially entered the Plastic Age.  Unfortunately, because plastics are so resistant to decomposition, archaeologists may be studying all of the water bottles, dental floss and disposable diapers that we leave behind.  

Our use of plastic can have a negative local and global impact as evidence by this albatross’ consumption of many small bits of plastic.

We know plastics are everywhere, but how prevalent is it in the parks & recreation world?  Probably more widespread than you realize. The majority of your equipment and tools are primarily made of plastics or have elements of plastic in them.  Your programs?  Many of them rely heavily on a single-use plastic items.  Events?  I’ll just say balloons and bottles of water.  What about in your parks?  Check your trash & recycling cans and the edges of your woods because I’m sure you’ll find evidence of visitors bringing and leaving items behind.  

There is no doubt that plastics aren’t going away, but much like naturalizing our neighborhood parks, the parks & recreation field has an opportunity to lead by example and reduce its use of plastics for the betterment of everyone.  At the same time, this approach could save your department money.  

Simple ways to get started:

  • Buy high quality, commercial grade tools and supplies to reduce the frequency of breaking and needing to be replaced.
  • Borrow instead of buy.  Reach out to departments in your area and see if they have what you may need for that one-time use.  
  • Attempt fixing an item instead of just tossing it.  Some employees may like the challenge of making the repair and it shows you value reuse.   
  • Instead of cheap, plastic giveaway items, focus on bettering “the experience” of your participants at your events and avoid those items all together.  Those participants will remember what they did and felt well after that item has been thrown away.  
  • Avoid working with instructors that offer programs that rely on kits with excessive waste.  
  • Provide a cooler of water and encourage BYOB (bottle) at your park clean-up events.
  • Strive for at least one waste-free event a year.  Promote it as that and solicit the community for ideas of how to achieve that status. 
  • Install bottle refilling stations at your most popular parks and don’t forget to publicize it.
  • Consider and purchase products that are made of plastic alternatives such as hemp, paper or bamboo.  

While we each have the pleasure of hosting thousands of people a year at our parks, programs and events, we also have an obligation to do so in a way that shows thoughtfulness towards our environment and lessens our impact as much as possible.   

Passing go

IMG_0549In the midst of educating park maintenance staff over the years, I’ve used a technique that has proven beneficial for staff, leadership and myself in the same process. Sounds too good to be true? Think again. Short of any name for the process I just call it “Passing Go” – Those of you that have played or still play board games can relate.  

Disclaimer: This process, as you will see, is predicated on your (or your supervisors) specific background and experience. Although the application is pretty universal to many areas within Parks & Recreation.

The theory is simple, place yourself on the crew/environment for a day or two, whatever you can fit into your schedule to work WITH the staff as a crew member. Yes that may mean a different starting time, work clothes or even weekend work. You become part of the crew for the day doing the tasks that they would typically be assigned to or respond to.

The response is immediate and educational for both sides. Staff will be amazed you took time out to “be one of them” for the day.  A new appreciation for the work can be cemented for both sides. I know I learned intimate details of the job and was able to understand why and how my decisions affected the outcome of the work productivity. It also helped me find out why certain tasks were either not done efficiently or not completed as expected. After doing this myself over time, different seasons and situations, it was invaluable to provide more efficient direction and the crews demonstrated a greater willingness & acceptance of daily directions. We also built a personal connection which was also a very unintended positive consequence.

I still do this with my staff and have an ongoing, maintenance volunteer situation that I call my working vacation. I use two weeks of vacation each year to volunteer to be on the Little League World Series Grounds Crew. Yes I love this work and it helps keep me grounded (yes that is a pun). But over the years it has also taught me what it means to be part of a work crew, take direction and I almost always come away with a new maintenance technique I’ve picked up from another crew member that I can use back on my crews. So “Pass Go”, you might not collect $200, but the outcomes are well worth it.

PRPS Scholarships: A Way to Boost Your Career

The Pennsylvania Recreation & Park Society (PRPS) offers a variety of scholarships for students and professionals in the Park and Recreation field. Applying for one of these scholarships can provide you with the opportunity to attend our annual Conference & Expo on March 17-20, 2020 at Seven Springs Mountain Resort for FREE!

At the Conference & Expo, you will have the opportunity to engage and network with professionals, gain new ideas and learn best practices from experts in the field, stay on top of industry trends, and learn about innovative products and services to take your career to the next step.

Recent student scholarship recipient, Abbie Miller, shares her experience as a Conference & Expo attendee: “The Annual PRPS conference and expo is a great way to network and learn new experiences about the field. Being a student means that I am always learning and attending this conference truly has helped provide me with new information on different avenues that I can take my career options with in the future. This was my second year going to this conference and I hope I can make it for a third next year!”

PRPS offers four student scholarships, which cover the cost of registration, meals, and lodging to attend the Conference & Expo.   The Crawford Scholarship also includes a $500 scholarship award.

Andy Memorial Scholarship – Temple University undergraduate in the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management

Crawford Memorial Scholarship – Full-time student in the Recreation & Parks major

Jones Memorial Scholarship – Full-time student in the Recreation & Parks major

Williamson Memorial Scholarship – Full-time Penn State University undergraduate in the Recreation, Park & Tourism Management major attending the University Park campus

PRPS offers three scholarships for professionals in the field, who are interested in furthering their careers through conference attendance and other professional development opportunities.

The PRPS Professional Scholarships are:

Milliren Professional Scholarship – Recreation & park professional who has worked three years or less in the field.  Scholarship provides $500 toward the cost of attending the PRPS Annual Conference & Expo

Snyder Community Service Award – Recreation & park agency that provides recreation services to persons with disabilities on an ongoing basis.  Scholarship provides registration, meals and lodging for one agency representative to attend the PRPS Annual Conference & Expo

PRPS Career Advancement Scholarship – PRPS member wishing to attend Professional Trainings & Conference or obtain Professional Certification.  Maximum award of $500 toward continuing education registration fees.

In addition to our Conference and Expo scholarships, we also offer two scholarships, which provide registration and lodging to attend the Therapeutic Recreation Institute.

The Therapeutic Recreation Scholarships are:

Moyer Memorial Scholarship – Current PRPS Therapeutic Recreation Branch member holding CPRP, CPRE, or CTRS certification

TRI Scholarship – Current PRPS member

The online form is now available for the Student Scholarships. Apply today! For more details on the scholarships visit

Tool Shed Update: Mythbusting Your To Do List

Everyone has a busy season. The retail community is approaching their busy season, CPAs are swamped during tax time, and a majority of those in the Recreation Profession feel the crush during the summer months. This is a generalization and there’s no doubt that ones busy season can vary depending on your branch and/or project load. However with regards to the Rec Professional, this spring/ summer was no different for this humble public servant.

Last summer I wrote about the figurative tools in our tool shed, and how having the correct tool makes all the difference. I’ve always been big on using lists to help organize and keep my due dates and tasks in the forefront. However, my tried and true list system was failing me. I needed an upgrade! The number of tasks I was adding to my list kept growing and items were getting buried as new additions were creeping into the margins. I found myself scanning my lists repeatedly to make sure I wasn’t overlooking something. Not efficient. Not productive.

Fortunately for me, I stumbled across an update that would enable me to glance at my sheet and have a cleaner grasp at the days work ahead. Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” fame was discussing a listing method he uses to keep track of his projects. This is the part of the blog where you may be asking, “Is this guy comparing, not forgetting to order port-a-johns to the certified smarty pants that built a working Iron Man suit?” Guilty as charged. I can get pretty dorky about my lists, so this may be more impactful for me than others. On the plus side, it’s incredibly simple to implement!

The system in a nutshell is as follows:

(i.e. get ready for some hot list talk)

Instead of numbering or making a dash or dot beside the items in your To Do List, draw a little box to the left of each task. Use that box to then illustrate the completion process of that task. For instance, if you’re half way done with a project, shade that box in half way. If you’ve only just begun a task, shade the box a quarter of the way.


I fell in love with the clean look of this easy-to-grasp method.  Where in the past, when I completed a task, I was sloppily crossing out the task and my lists became muddled and not reader friendly. With the box method, when a task is complete, the box will be completely shaded in and I still have complete visibility of what the task was.  See Wired article for more details.

At the time of this discovery, I was working on special event prep, writing a grant, working with consultants on a pool feasibility study, and trying not to lose track of my everyday responsibilities.  I ended up making an 11 x 17 mega list with four quadrants and then implemented the box listing to those quadrants depending on the topic.  Top left was Fun Food Fest, bottom left was my grant, top right was the feasibility study, and bottom right was everything else.


My pride and joy.

This solution clearly tickled me, as I’ve now written a 500 word love letter illustrating the virtues of a To Do List. (Sorry ladies, I’m off the market!)  Not only did the boxes help keep me on task and organized, I felt the satisfaction of seeing those boxes fill up as tasks were closed out. The wired article listed above also discusses the momentum building that occurs when you mentally see yourself completing task after task.

I know there are more organized individuals out there than myself, and there surely are tweaks that can be made to this. (Shout out to the four-color pen club and your color coding ways!) I like to joke, but I sincerely hope this silly simple solution may increase your productivity. Share your favorite organization tips in the comments, and let’s keep our professional tool shed growing!

Outside the Cubicle!

We have all heard the metaphor to think outside the box, but is that far enough? This catchphrase has become widely used in business environments, especially by management consultants and executive coaches, and has been referenced in a number of advertising slogans. To think outside the box is to look further and to try not thinking of the obvious things, but to try thinking of things beyond them.

The world of recreational programming comes with many challenges and opportunities when creating new and exciting events and activities. Remember there isn’t anything that can not be done and there is always more than one way to get the same success.

In my 20+ years of recreational programming I’ve learned to toss the box out the window and instead think outside the cubicle. Every interaction, every event you attend, and every idea handed to you is fuel for a new event or activity. Throughout the year I attend trade shows for CAI (Community Associations Institute). At these trade shows, tables are filled with engineering firms, collection firms, banks, equipment contractors, insurance company’s, etc. Companies that really do not have much to do with recreational programming. Instead of ignoring the tables, I make it a point to approach every table and speak to every company. I make every face to face meeting count. Many of the companies I have approached at these trade shows I have asked to be a part of the annual job fair I host at the community I work for. Often times these companies have never been asked to attend a job fair. The job fair gives them the opportunity to market their company to your community, and it helps to make your job fair more successful, while also providing new opportunities for everyone involved. Furthermore, you have now built a new relationship with a company that you can ask to provide sponsorships for future events.

So remember just because “we’ve never done it this way before” doesn’t mean you can’t do it another way. Stop living in a 3 dimensional world and think outside the cubicle!

“The World is But a Canvas to the Imagination” ~ Henry David Thoreau