Staying true to the public role of parks and recreation

Our challenge is to serve everyone regardless of the ability to pay.

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youth soccerThere’s nothing wrong with people paying to use certain park facilities or participate in various recreation programs. The problem with fees and charges centers on our profession’s over-reliance on them. There’s no longer much, if any, differentiation between what are essential services that should be available at no or low cost and what opportunities should break-even or even generate revenue.

A great example of this is the current state of youth sports in Pennsylvania and across the country.

No one would argue that every boy and girl should have the opportunity to play youth sports. Unfortunately, that’s not a reality for many families.

Why? If your dad and mom don’t have money, it’s likely you won’t play. Gone are the days of youth sports being a low-cost activity that all families can afford. That is even more apparent in our urban communities. In our cities, the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” is quickly widening.

To me, youth sports is one of the essential services of our parks and recreation profession.

There is tons of research on the links between children’s physical activity and school success, healthy weight, and becoming an active adult. With positive youth sports experiences, children develop confidence and skills they need to succeed in life. Participation should be a right, not a privilege for only those who can pay.

In many Pennsylvania communities, parent-run organizations are the providers of youth sports programs. Because of that, many park and recreation departments have a bit of a hands-off attitude – one of “they’re providing the program so we don’t need to get involved.” The challenge, however, is our public role – our charge to serve everyone regardless of the ability to pay.

As professionals, we should be focusing our efforts on strengthening local youth recreation leagues and helping to lower costs so that all children can participate. Keeping close-to-home youth sports programs strong is even more important today, with the proliferation of expensive travel teams that shut out lower income families.

What do you say?

Author: Sue Landes

Executive Director, Lancaster Recreation Commission

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