On Staying Connected to our Humanity

It has been said many times during these past months, but it cannot be stated enough: we are living through strange and trying times. Everything has changed, and many are certain that nothing will ever be the same again. As parks and recreation professionals, each of us in our different spheres have probably been questioning how we will respond as an industry and how our respective organizations will endure. If you work on the programming side of the profession, like me, you may have pondered how best to respond to ever changing political messages and restrictions to various activities, while still following a mandate to engage with our communities and provide quality outdoor experiences.  Many of us have risen to the occasion and begun to adapt our programs and approach.

The rush to adapt materials to digital platforms and connect with park users through alternate means has been necessary, but also fraught with many moments of productive struggle. Parks are about getting folks outside to experience the elements and to commune with one another while enjoying sports, concerts, hikes and many other types of activities. Encouraging people to learn and commune while being confined to their homes, has seemed disingenuous at times. Virtual nature hikes simply are not the same as being on a trail to physically observe the patterns that nature has to offer, and to be able to touch the various textures and take in all the different smells. But the times dictate that we must prevail, because we want to be there for our various communities, and we want to prove our value as Parks and Rec Professionals. Funders want to know that their dollars are being spent effectively, and we want to be able to demonstrate that.

While all this pressure weighs on our shoulders, I have had to remind myself to pause and reflect. I have even had to remind myself that the benefits of being outdoors are not just for park users, but they are also for me! These times can be stressful, and we need to be easy on ourselves. The following tips were recently published in the career column of the Nature Research Journal. I have adapted them:

Manage your expectations
These are new and different times. There will be times when you cannot concentrate. It is ok to take a walk and come back. Be easy on yourself and know that you need time to adjust to these new patterns.

Routine is your friend
Working from home can have us blurring the lines between work time and family time. Do your best to set specific times when you will be working, and try to stick to them.

Be compassionate with yourself and with others
We are all connected by the same struggles. We will all feel moments when we are overwhelmed. We have to give grace to others and to ourselves. Remember that we are all doing our best.

Maintain connections
All humans need connections for our mental as well as our physical health. Staff teams have instigated virtual coffee groups, online book clubs and co-working spaces where we can work in the (virtual) presence of others. We may be in social isolation, but we don’t need to feel alone. Stay connected to friends and make an effort to reach out to those who might be isolated.

Manage uncertainty by staying in the present
Focus on each moment right now. What are the tasks at hand for the day or even for the hour? Find ways to meditate and focus on breathing in and out for a few minutes an hour.

Most of all, I think that we need to support one another professionally as well as personally. Find ways to share our struggles and our triumphs. Reach out to one another to share about our work, but let’s also share our humanness with one another.

Camila Rivera-Tinsley, Director of Education,
The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

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