In 2017, East and West Goshen Townships celebrated two-hundred years of blissful divorce with a Bicentennial Celebration on June 3rd. The event included a three-scene play based on historical documents, two stages of music, Ben Franklin (this is Pennsylvania after all…), an amazing fireworks display – even a pistol duel! That’s right, Ken Lehr and I faced off to finally see, after two hundred years, which was the better Township! In the end, we both stayed on our feet, but the crowd of 3,500 loved every minute!
While perusing the NRPA website last March, I came across their Park Champion initiative. Park Champion events highlight the positive impacts of park and recreation events within a community and specifically advocate to federally elected officials. I immediately emailed Jayni Rasmussen, NRPA’s Advocacy and Outreach Manager, to get the scoop! The initiative is very turnkey and user-friendly. Park Champion logos are available, template letters you can mail to federal officials are easily downloadable, and NRPA is more than willing to knock on your official’s doors down in Washington.
The benefits to local Pennsylvania Parks and Recreation Departments are enumerable. In my opinion, one thing that Pennsylvania Park & Recreation Departments struggle with, because we are Township and not County driven, is “playing with the big boys” across the country. By attaching the Park Champion logo to our Bicentennial Celebration – our event was seen in a higher esteem by our local Township Board of Supervisors and community. We received additional local publicity and fundraising support as well.
Another chief benefit of hosting a Park Champion event is something for the greater good. State officials in Harrisburg had a difficult time with the 2017 budget – and in most budgetary conversations monies we typically rely on came up on the chopping block. I know my community is desperately trying to renovate and rehabilitate our park spaces, but need those state monies to move forward. At our Bicentennial Celebration, we had our U.S. Representative, both State Senators and our State Representative – all of whom came simply because we were a Park Champion. They each joined me on stage and made wonderful remarks about the impact of parks here in West Chester. I had an opportunity to talk with each one, and subtly made my case that folks at the event, 3,500 (20% of my residents), truly valued parks and needed them to be updated. Politically speaking, my goal was to show elected officials that they needed me, Ken and our Parks and Recreation Departments as assets. Partnering with NRPA as a Park Champion helped us deliver on this goal.
Park Champion events can be small or large, ongoing events or something brand new. Logistically speaking, it’s best to align a Park Champion event with the congressional calendar, giving your federal officials no reason not to come!
For those that couldn’t make the PRPS Fall Membership meeting, Jayni Rasmussen was our guest speaker. It was clearly evident she is passionate about helping municipal departments advocate and highlight what makes them awesome! I spoke with her afterwards, and she summed up the Park Champion initiative best, “As park and recreation professionals, you already know that your work is essential in making your community healthier, happier, and more economically vibrant. But with so much public funding on the chopping block, it’s critical that you demonstrate to your members of Congress the importance of investing in local parks and recreation. Emails and phone calls are great, but there’s really nothing like experiencing a local park or recreation facility in person. That’s the idea behind NRPA’s Park Champion initiative – empowering park and recreation professionals and community advocates to show elected officials the importance of parks and recreation first-hand by inviting them to events, project openings, groundbreakings, program kick-offs, and more. You’re already equipped with unbeatable advocacy assets: your parks, recreation centers, and community-focused programs. Now, it’s time to join the hundreds of Park Champions across the country and in Pennsylvania, and take advantage of the tools, resources, and network of support that NRPA offers to members and non-members alike through this initiative. Together as Park Champions, we can fight for the future of parks and recreation by bringing Capitol Hill to a park near you.”
While the snow is still on the ground and you are busy planning a wonderful 2018 – I encourage everyone to visit the Park Champion website and get going!