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.

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Author: Sue Landes

Community Recreation Planner, Recreation and Parks Solutions

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