A Tangible Reminder

Remind Finger

A few years ago I decided to rip out our hallway restroom while my wife and son went away for the long Columbus Day weekend. The vanity and lighting were from the 70’s, the door and some of the vinyl flooring was chewed up from a puppy training experiment gone wrong, and everything was in a desperate need of an update. Now I consider myself “handy-ish”, but not an expert by any stretch. I spent the next four days demoing, picking out new finishes, paint colors, watching some Youtube tutorials on cutting angles for trim and wainscoting, and largely living in that 8 x 6 area like it was a cell from Shawshank Redemption. After my second 18 hour day, I was beginning to daydream about what else I could have done with all my “me time”. It mostly consisted of seeing how far into an NHL season I could get on my PS3, or how many hours of binge watching the latest peak TV series I’d relinquished in hopes of surprising my family.

By mid-day Monday of that Columbus Day weekend, the transformation was beginning to take shape and by the time my family arrived home later that evening, we had an entirely new bathroom. From the mirror and lighting to the sink and vanity to the flooring and wall treatment, everything was updated. Beyond surprising my family and seeing their smiles, I sat back and felt proud about the work I had put in. There was a visible transformation in front of me that I was responsible for.

I often think about projects such as this while I’m sitting behind a computer at work. I think about how tangible and immediate the satisfaction of that project was and how in our line of work that isn’t always the case. Now yes, there are special events, park and trail projects as well as new facility construction that scratch that visual satisfaction itch. Something as simple as a clean pool or a freshly cut athletic field can give me that feeling too. What I’m referring to is the day to day administrative grind of reviewing budget numbers, facility bookings, programming, payroll, insurance and preparing report after report after report. And yes, there are some that really enjoy a great spreadsheet or pie chart, and I can appreciate that as well (where my excel-heads at?!), but it never comes close to the satisfaction gained from a concrete accomplishment.

It was around this time that I found myself at one of our parks in the evening. It was such a different environment than the daytime crowd that we experience during business hours. It hummed with activity as tennis lessons and pick up-basketball created the rhythm section for the evening’s soundtrack. The athletic fields were in full swing, and friends chatted leisurely as they meandered around the walking trail. Children buzzed through the playground equipment with their imaginations in full overdrive. It. Was. Awesome! It was also a complete “duh” moment for me. THIS is the tangible outcome of the work we do!

Ever since that ah-ha moment, I’ve encouraged my staff to make sure they get out and experience the many accomplishments of all their time and energy. It can be as simple as popping into a program, or taking a day trip, or just going for a walk through a park or trail. The faces of the many individuals and families enjoying the work you’ve put in and seeing these wonderful facilities in use has been a much needed reminder of where to look for that visible, real time satisfaction. If you are like me, it’s all too easy to put in your eight (plus) hours staring at a screen, glued to a desk covered in papers. It is so vital to get out and experience the wheels you’ve help put in motion, born from the passion you’ve put into it, and to feel the pride that accompanies you when you sit back and take stock of your work. And if that doesn’t work, you can always renovate a bathroom.


I am the greatest…and so are you!!!

If I stood in front of one hundred random people and flashed a picture of the boxer to the left, and said, “Who is this?”, everyone would say, “It’s obviously Muhammad Ali.” If I pressed a little further and asked for an Ali quote, I am sure someone would tell the group that he famously said, “I am the greatest!.”

If I asked the audience the same question about the boxer to the right, how many would know his name? That gentleman is Mr. Sugar Ray Robinson, owner of a professional boxing record of 173 wins and 19 losses. Notwithstanding Ali’s boasts, Robinson is considered the greatest boxer of all time, but most of us have never heard of him.

You are probably wondering, where’s the analogy here? It’s all about perception. Ali was a master of public perception, while Robinson was just a master with the gloves. When it comes to park and recreation professionals, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has some of the best and brightest minds in the business. But at the end of the day, we all go back to our Boroughs, Townships, and Cities and our performance is evaluated almost exclusively by our residents and elected officials.

Therein lies your opportunity. Your community’s perception of your department, your programs and parks and ultimately, your value, can be steered by unleashing your inner Muhammad Ali! He wasn’t the greatest, but he said he was…and now the general public believes it.

There are a few ways you can cultivate public perception. Tell people about your successes. It sounds simple enough, but your community needs to know their investment in parks and recreation is worthwhile. It may be a pain in the butt, but every department should complete an end of year report with facts, figures, pictures and a clearly framed progression towards goals. Boast about your programs, your staff, your parks. Quantification is also useful, numbers mean something. I’ve started to use the iSOPARC (System for the Observing Play and Recreation in Communities) to leverage park user totals into data findings that are impactful. In 2017, I was able to report to my Board of Supervisors, that our parks had over 225,000 visitors that translated into a health care savings of $7.3M! Did I mention iSOPARC is completely free to use, all you need is an iPad!

Just as boxers (and WWE wrestlers) seek the championship belt, park and recreation professionals should also submit their best programs for awards. Our communities and elected officials have limited knowledge of the truly positive impact the parks and recreation field has on quality of life. But do you know what they do understand…awards. Elected officials love to come to ceremonies, shake hands, stand for photos and that is a good thing. That is part of their role, and part of your role should be delivering them those opportunities. Practically speaking, our residents have so many recreational pursuits they can take part in, its a competitive field. Pasting a big flashy gold sticker on your program flyer that says “award winner” instantly gives you credibility before you’ve even said, “want to sign up” or “25% sibling discount.”

You might be saying right now, I hate to boast, I hate to brag. The field of parks and recreation is an amazing profession. We teach kids to swim, ride bikes, feed families, combat obesity, breakdown barriers, reintroduce retirees to social networks, and so much more. That isn’t an “I am the greatest” speech, that is straight fact; we make people’s lives better. Tell your community you are awesome because you are.




Knowing Your Community

youth soccerNo two Pennsylvania communities are the same, so it’s no surprise that no two local parks and recreation agencies are the same. Each serves different residents with different needs and desires. Each has different access to funding. From the very small to the very large, from rural to urban areas, from no staff to hundreds of employees, Pennsylvania parks and recreation agencies come in all shapes and sizes.

Today, local parks and recreation agencies are charged with the responsibility to play a significant role in improving the quality of communities. Stepping up and playing this role means knowing your community and the residents you serve very well.
Studying your demographics is an important step. What is the median age, how fast/slow is the population growing, how much time do residents spend commuting, what percentage of the population is over 65/under 5 years of age, what is the education level and the poverty level of your residents? There’s much more to understand, such as the state of the local economy, the available resources in the community, the value residents place on parks and recreation, and the top issues and challenges facing the local community.

Local challenges for your community may be the explosion of travel sports teams and children specializing too early in one sport, food insecurity, an aging population, a sedentary population, a declining or a growing population, high rates of childhood obesity, escalating costs for program participants, lack of early childhood education, private organizations offering competing programming, lack of facilities for programs, and lack of funding for programs. Your list may include some of these issues, plus many others.

For public recreation to meet residents’ needs, programs that appeal to multiple generations, interests and abilities are offered. In part, this is done by determining trends and responding to challenges. The big question is – how do you determine what your community is faced with?

To stay ahead (as much as you can) of the challenges that your community is and will be faced with, and to offer recreation programming that addresses these challenges, hold regular meetings with your staff and volunteers, meet with the public, be visible at community events, be out in your parks and recreation facilities, keep up with the local news, survey the public, evaluate your programs, attend professional conferences and workshops, and network with community organizations.

Your mission statement, vision statement, and core values should be well developed. Undertaking a strategic plan is a great step to knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your recreation programming, discovering the opportunities for growth, and identifying the threats to your success. A strategic plan will provide a clear vision for the future of your recreation programming and serve as a guide to best serve your residents. A strategic plan will help you figure out what role your parks and recreation agency should play in improving the quality of your community.

Explore Pennsylvania Trails

We’re celebrating trails in September in Pennsylvania!

We’re fortunate to have thousands of miles of trails of all types to hike, ride, and paddle. Just like local parks, they are waiting to be explored at little to no cost.

Trails connect places, are one of the best guides to nature, and more than 75 percent of Pennsylvanians believe that along with parks they are an essential part of our health care system.

PA Top Trail State

Where to Find a Trail

Anyone who wants to visit a trail but is not sure where to go can find 12,000 miles and events listed on the website www.explorePAtrails.com.

The website has recently been refreshed.  Key things to visit on the site now include a Calendar of Events, the Trail of the Year and a Featured Trail.  But the best part is you can search by trail name, your county or zip code, or the type of trail use to find your perfect path.

If your local trail is not on there, you can add it.

Learn more about trail experiences on this short video which is being placed on TV stations throughout the state during the month.


Trail Partners

DCNR helps coordinate a 20-member Pennsylvania Trails Advisory Committee that represents many different types of users and stakeholders.  It advises the department of the use of state and federal trail funding.

The committee recently finished its 2017 Trails Report that is a great information source about planning, closing trail gaps to reach a goal of having a trail within 15 minutes of every Pennsylvanian, and lots of accomplishments for the year.

Pursue your trail!

Goodbye to Summer

Special needs pictureIt may be a sad moment for some and a joyful one to others…the end of summer.  For my daughter and I, it’s our favorite time of year.  We can almost smell the leaves.  The acorns have begun to fall from the Oaks and the goldenrod is blooming.

In our profession, summer poses more of a challenge in your personal life to “relax.”  You have pools to manage, camps to organize, Community Day(s), concerts, races, and many other special events.  So, Fall may be just what the doctor ordered.

But as we wish away the madness, think of all the memories that you and your staff have created for the community.  You have created economic stimulus; taught someone to swim; showed a child the difference between a frog and a toad; provided exercise for a senior citizen; encouraged a special needs participant to get up and dance, allowed a grandfather to watch his granddaughter hit her first home run, created laughter between new friends and many, many other memories.

Parks and Recreation Professionals not only provide benefits for the humans on Mother Earth, but also for the many critters that rely on clean water, fresh air, green grass, safe corridors, and plentiful food.  All which allows them to continue to flourish in their natural habitats.

As you take that sigh of relief that another successful summer has come to an end, give yourself, your staff, and dedicated volunteers a pat on the back for making a difference for creatures big and small.


Engaged learning: the way of the future

Identifying weak times and programs and strategic planningThe buzz words among university faculty and administrators these days is the term engaged learning.  The premise is that most students learn more by doing than by sitting in a classroom.  Engaged learning allows students to actively participate in the learning process, interact with peers, faculty and often, industry partners, and then supplement traditional classroom style teaching with “real world” experience.

Engaged learning opportunities such as internships have long been a part of the degree requirements for diplomas in the recreation, park and tourism fields.  For many, the internship is the capstone learning experience and the definition of engage learning; twelve to fifteen weeks or longer spent working away from the university, under the direction supervision of a professional in the field. Recent trends in university course offerings show that engaged learning opportunities are increasing in type and style and are available to students in advance of the capstone internship opportunity.

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, engaged learning has several characteristics that differentiate it from what, back in the day, many of us called experiential learning.  Engaged learning suggests that students are active participants in the learning process as well as in the object of study.  Engaged learning means that students are also engaged in the context of the object of study as well as with the human condition.

Engaged learning can range from everything from an assignment that requires students to interview a professional in the field to group oriented, project based assignments to a faculty led study abroad experience.

In the Recreation, Park and Tourism Management (RPTM) department at Penn State, we have spent considerable time and resources developing specialized engaged learning opportunities for students in each of the career options within the major.  For example, our Arena Management course is taught at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center – a 15,000 seat sports and entertainment facility – with staff from the arena helping students gain hands-on experience in marketing, ticketing, facilities operation, booking, etc.  We have partnered with commercial recreation entities such as Marriott Vacation Club and Carnival Cruises to offer embedded travel courses in which students complete projects under the direction of the recreation management teams of those companies and then the students spend a week during the semester working at the resorts or on a cruise ship. Our People and Parks program, in conjunction with the Department of Landscape Architecture, takes students to Tanzania to participate in a variety of interdisciplinary scholarly activities related to the national parks and the surrounding communities. Bi-annually, our golf management students have the opportunity to enroll in a class over Spring Break that takes them to the birthplace of golf – St. Andrews, Scotland.  Most recently, we adapted several sections of the introduction course Leisure and of any major) by reducing enrollment in each section and including off campus visits to recreation agencies throughout Pennsylvania. Penn State’s affiliate nature center, Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, continues to offer a variety of RPTM courses that offer engaged learning opportunities for students interested in outdoor education, park management and environmental interpretation.

The days of students taking notes in a large lecture hall while an instructor teaches from a podium are becoming a thing of the past. Engaged learning and hands-on education with students actively participating is the way of the future.




Engage with Social Media

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Many of us connect to some type of social media on a daily basis, either personally or professionally. The top four social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.  Today, Facebook remains the priority platform for most Americans. I am sure you have a favorite social media outlet that you prefer over the others.

Social media is used in the workplace for many reasons: to build your organization, connect with people, inform your audience, promote events/programs, gather feedback/reactions and much more. It is fast and inexpensive marketing! You can communicate directly, or share other’s posts. I assume your Department has a Social Media Policy in place if you don’t here is an example of the PRPS Employee Social Media Policy.

When posting to your social media, do you ever think about how to get more responses to your post? Or if anyone is seeing them? I know I get excited when I see a share, like, or comment. Track your social media analytics, and this will help show what is working and not working and help you increase engagement and grow your audience. Most social media networks have built-in analytics for you to track. The basic ones to keep track of are Reach, Engagement, and Impressions. The network summaries allow you to track by day, week, or month.

Which social media platform is best for you?

Facebook– Keeps followers up to date on news, events, programs, which they can easily share with others. Facebook is a great platform for posting pictures, videos and now live videos. (Posts with images are shared more often.) In addition, Facebook is a good place to ask questions and keep your followers engaged.

Twitter – Good for distributing alerts, news, and links to blogs/websites. If you want to start a quick conversation, this is the place.

LinkedIn – The best place to connect with other professionals in your field, build a network, share articles, and collaborate.

Instagram – The place to share photos, videos and stories that display in a live newsfeed.

PRPS uses several social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Google+. We use these platforms to promote workshops and conferences, and share member news, articles, blogs, and current trends. Be sure to follow or like us on all these platforms.  We post 3-4 times a week on Facebook and Twitter, and share articles and news on LinkedIn and photos on Instagram.

If you have anything to share on our Facebook page, please feel free to post, or send via email to Emily Schnellbaugh, Communications Manager, eschnellbaugh@prps.org.