Put a Big Fat Gold Sticker on your Program!

2022 PRPS Conference & Expo Award Winners from Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

Each spring, PRPS members gather at the Annual PRPS Conference & Expo to learn about emerging programming, discuss industry-wide best practices and of course, socialize! But it’s also a chance to recognize individuals, departments and programs for outstanding achievement over the last year via our Awards program, chaired and MC’d by the always funny and eloquent Barry Bessler.

We leave every conference blown away by all the cool stuff that people are doing around the state. That said, we don’t think we get enough award applications. We’re talking to you park and rec professional, sitting behind a desk sipping coffee, enjoying the calm before 2023 comes in with a bang! We totally get it. 2022 is becoming smaller and smaller in the rear view as you zoom towards whatever is “next.” But stay here in the moment for one more second. Take a minute to think about it, your community benefited from something you did, that was really awesome. In our opinion, many park and rec folks do it because they love it, which is great. But they are uncomfortable with the final step of any program, event, green and sustainable development/practices and calendar year…validation. In a municipal environment where parks and recreation falls below police, fire, streets etc. you have to play your hand to the best of your ability, and awards are one of the best and easiest ways we can validate our departments in the eyes of elected officials and the general public.

The best thing about the awards application itself, is you get the answers to the test ahead of time! Specifically for the Excellence awards, the application is looking for the POWER principles:

Positions public parks and recreation as an essential community service. Tell how the entry advances the role and importance of public parks and recreation, shows the benefits of parks and recreation, and improves the quality of life in the community.

Tip: Get quotes from participants, volunteers etc. Quantify the impacts. Survey your participants with respect to “quality of life” and “benefits.”

Outcome based. Describe the problem, issue, or opportunity and how the entry provided a solution to it.

Tip: Think back to why you started planning this program? Community need? Perceived hole in services? Quantify!

Wow Factor. Explain how the entry advances parks and recreation in the community through a major accomplishment, innovation, or a creative approach to managing and/or providing public parks and recreation. Describe how the entry demonstrates creativity and innovation. This can range from start – up efforts made to establish parks and recreation, or a small but mighty effort to make something happen where parks and recreation is struggling, to the initiative of a well-established parks and recreation organization.

Tip: What made your event/program noteworthy? It could be “just” an Egg Hunt, but maybe you had auditory eggs for those with hearing loss or you incorporated fifteen community groups to pull it off.

Effects change. Address how the entry deals with an important issue in the field of parks and recreation such as environmental stewardship, connecting people to nature, active healthy living, or social equity. Describe how it demonstrates strategies, resources, and outreach methods to increase public awareness, or other means that produce results.

Tip: This is probably the hardest POWER principle to answer. Reviewing your “outcome” answer will lead you down the path. Look at your park and rec strategic plan, NRPA Pillars etc. and think big picture. You might be thinking “I’m a small department, can’t compete with Philly”…but that’s hogwash! Talk about saturation. You might have a small program, but one that really saturates your community and is vital, tell that story.

Resourcefulness. Present how the entry used creative resources and outreach methods to generate support from a variety of sources including partnerships in the public, private and non-profit sectors,use of private funds, lands, facilities, or expertise, or secured support from policy makers or elected officials. 

Tip: You got this! Park and rec people always have to scrape and claw their way to make things happen. Really dive deep in and discuss your internal and external partnerships and how your community came together to pull off your event/program.

Also remember there are not only opportunities to showcase your programs: you can showcase yourself, your colleagues, agency and also your parks through your dedication to green and sustainable practices by submitting an application for the Outstanding Achievement Award, Distinguished Member Award, Outstanding New Professional, Community Champion, Agency of the Year and Green Parks Awards. You are amazing at what you do…apply!

OK, that’s it everyone. All year long you’ve been creative and resourceful. You’ve spent more weekends in the park than with your family. You’ve pulled trash from a can in the morning and put on a full suit for a budget meeting that night. Sounds crazy, but that’s our profession. Now take the moment you’ve earned, and apply for a PRPS Award.

Apply here: https://prps.org/Awards

See you in March!

The PRPS Awards Committee

2022 Agency of the Year – Upper Dublin Township

Looking Back While Moving PA Forward

by Jason Lang, East Goshen Township

For anyone that has read my Dig It! blogs over the years, I typically pull on heart strings…but not today! As I sit here on 2/22/22 typing away, we are just 35 days away from the 75th Anniversary PRPS Conference & Expo and it’s starting to get exciting! In just one month, 400+ park and recreation professionals will converge on Kalahari Resorts and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to party! Fellow Conference Co-Chair Kristy Owens and I have an amazing team that deserves a ton of credit! So here they are!

Education Committee: Kristin Zeigler, Derek Dureka, Cindy Dunlap, Dave Hutner, Chris Biswick, Marissa Sprowles

Expo Hall Committee: Andy Oles, Mike Richino, Katie Kollar, Doug Knauss, Joanna Sharapan

Socials: Becky Richards, Jason Cerkan

Local Arrangements: Dan Sharapan

Registration: Emily Croke

Publicity: Kelsey Najdek

Room Host: Paul Kopera

App Master: Trevor Pearson

And of course, the amazing PRPS staff is the driving force behind the experience, led by Director of Training and IT Niki Tourscher!

But, we still need help to pull this all off, and I’m talking to you! Yes, you reading this right now! We still need a few folks to volunteer at the Registration Desk (1-2 hours) and as Room Hosts, very simply introducing speakers and making sure the crowd doesn’t get too rowdy!

Now, many of you might be asking yourself if you really need to attend the conference or not…and the answer is yes! Double yes! And here’s why!

It’s been three years since we all got together way, way back in March 2019 at the conference in Penn State. I miss my friends from Pittsburgh! I miss the witty banter at the Awards Banquet between Barry Bessler and Dave Hutner about who’s better, the Eagles or Steelers (it’s a tie – they both stink!). March 2019 feels like forever ago, and you know what, you deserve this conference. We all do! The pandemic has hit PA communities hard, but park and recreation professionals have been true leaders in the face of crisis. Creative and driven folks that have thrust parks and programming forward as a panacea for moving us successfully through COVID. So you deserve to have these four days. Four days to applaud yourself for your hard work. Four days to commiserate with fellow folks who “get it.” Four days to steal genius programming ideas from someone else. Four days to meet with expo hall vendors about exciting post-pandemic projects. And four days, if you are like me, away from your own crazy kids!

So as you can see, I didn’t mention anything about CEU’s, our terrific lineup of speakers, or socials. All of that will be AMAZING. At the end of the day, its the PRPS membership, coming together from all corners of PA that makes the conference special. Be a part of it!

You can find all the Conference & Expo details and registration on the website at https://www.prpsconferenceandexpo.org/.

Hope to see you there!


A Celebration of 75 years – “Looking Back, While Moving PA Forward”

by PRPS Conference & Expo Co-Chairs Jason Lang, East Goshen Township Parks & Recreation Department and Kristy Owens, Centre Region Parks & Recreation

In March at Kalahari Resorts, PRPS will celebrate its 75th Anniversary Conference & Expo and we couldn’t be more thrilled to not only see you in person but share this historical moment with you all!

Can you believe that PRPS held its first conference back in 1948! This was a time when….

  • In 1948, park visitation spiked to one million people per year, just following World War II. Fast forward to 2019, following the pandemic, and in turn spiking visitation to 4.2 million in our national parks.  
    • The Cleveland Indians won the Baseball World Series
    • The Summer and Winter Olympic games returned after a 12-year hiatus because of World War II.
    • TV still hadn’t yet entered our living rooms at this time
    • The first theme parks emerged in the mid-twentieth century with the opening of Santa Claus Land in 1946, Santa’s Workshop in 1949, and Disneyland in 1955.
    • Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Perry Como dominated the airwaves.
    • Kids were playing with a new exciting board game called “Chutes and Ladders,” based off India’s “Snakes and Ladders.”
    • Gas was $0.26 per gallon, milk was $0.80 and you could buy a nice house for $13,000.

Fast-forward to 2021:

  • You can watch any program, any time, from any location…if you have wifi.
    • Games were streamed LIVE and competitions and coaching were remote at the start of the year, with no fans in the bleachers or stands
    • New sports were added to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics –baseball/softball, skateboarding, karate, sport climbing and surfing – which added 18 new events and 474 athletes to Summer Games.
    • BTS, Drake and Olivia Rodrigo top the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
    • “Present pets” dominate the toy market…and unbox themselves!
    • Gas is $3.25 per gallon, milk is $4.00 and you can buy a nice house for $300,000.

Talk about a big difference! One constant though has always been municipal parks and recreation. When public cleanliness was an issue…we opened pools. When science said play supports learning…we installed playgrounds. When Americans needed places to speak about tough topics…they came to parks, plazas and public squares.

The 75th Anniversary Conference is going to reflect back on PRPS’ amazing contributions to Pennsylvania’s quality of life. A wonderful opportunity to reflect back on our history, while looking to a bright future.

We are excited to invite you to join us for the 2022 PRPS Conference & Expo, from March 29 – April 1, 2021! This year, we will feature keynote speakers, a look into the history of PRPS and moving PA Forward, over 65 educational sessions, an exhibit hall full of your favorite vendors and opportunities to network and socialize with peers across the state.

Featured Keynote Speakers

Opening Keynote Kristine Stratton, NRPA President and CEO – Kristine will kick off the conference in style, discussing the power of parks and recreation.

Keynote Speaker: Richard Hight – Richard is a world-famous artist, thought-provoking storyteller and overall character! His keynote unfolds through message and also visually, as his story unfolds on canvas bit by bit while he weaves in and out of the audience.

Endnote Speaker: Erik Dominquez -Erik is one of us! Erik is an immigrant with an amazing story, one that includes working in parks and recreation as a camp counselor! He is the founder of Speak Up! Stories and he will help us “speak up boldly, and share our story.”

The history, speakers and education are all important of course, but we all know, that after two years of not getting together, WE ARE READY TO PARTY! Our Socials Committee is putting the finishing touches on some really exciting events throughout the week of the conference! 

Find all Conference & Expo details and register at http://www.prpsconferenceandexpo.org.

See you at Kalahari!

Kristy, Jason, and the Conference Committee

Culture of Health – coming to a park near you!

Did you know that 29% of high school students felt sad or hopeless
almost every day for 2 or more weeks in a row so that they stopped
doing some usual activities (2017; US Dept. of HHS)? Or that 2 in 5 Americans report that they sometimes or always feel their social relationships are not meaningful, and one in five say they feel lonely or socially isolated. Loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a
(2019; Dept. of HSRA). These are startling statistics, but as John Lennon once famously said, “There are no problems, only solutions”! So let’s get solving!

The PRPS Health and Wellness Committee is excited to launch the Culture of Health program this year to address some of these community issues. What is the Culture of Health program you ask…let me tell you about it!

We all know being healthy and well doesn’t just mean being physically fit, but true, sustained wellness is a holistic endeavor. The Culture of Health program is aimed at promoting holistic wellness to children ages 5-12, in four key areas:

Mental Health – a state of successful mental functioning, positive self-image emotional stability and ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity

Intellectual Health – the ability to learn, grow from experiences and utilize intellectual capabilities

Physical Health – the conditioning of one’s body to include absence of disease and improved fitness level

Social Health – Learning to positively interact with others, understanding individuality within the framework of a community, gaining skills to communicate and handling conflict with peers

The Culture of Health (CoH) program is a free, 100% turn key option that can be implemented this year in OST and summer camps and we encourage all PRPS member communities to take part!

Some program nuts and bolts:

The CoH Program Handbook includes:

A. Program overview, goals and 4 H & W component definitions

B. Example of a weekly implementation model

C. 10-12 activities for each H & W component organized into a CoH cookbook

D. Each activity “recipe” includes goal, instructions and supplies; all activities involve common P & R supplies – no additional expenses!

All resource materials will be housed on the PRPS website:

A. CoH logo will be available to be added to program flyers, staff trainings and will identify your program as a CoH partner!

B. Program staff training video

C. Culture of Health program guide

The Health and Wellness Committee is super excited to roll the Culture of Health program out this year! But this is where we need your help! We all know the last year has been tough. Our kids are stuck in a virtual existence, positive social interactions are few and far between, and we can all see challenges ahead. Take advantage of this amazing resource and set your kids up for truly, truly improved health. Happy, connected, clear, confident, heart healthy happiness!

We look forward to discussing the Culture of Health program more at the 2021 PRPS Annual Conference in a few short weeks, but my advice…register today by simply emailing Emily Gates at egates@prps.org!

Parks move us forward

What does it really mean to be healthy and well? The PRPS Health and Wellness Committee is continuously looking at this definition, seeing how its changing, and identifying how we can be problem solvers, happiness givers, identity creators and community builders. During the pandemic, its become quite clear that our park’s play a major role in maintaining one’s mental health.

As many of you know, I’m a military veteran. I can probably count on thirty fingers (I have extras) the number of veteran friends I have that struggle with PTSD. Parks are there for them. During the pandemic, with everything shut down, our parks and forests were where these folks found comfort and connection. Walking trails, fishing, teaching their children to hunt. Even though the pandemic has caused a nationwide pause, as individuals and families we psychologically need to feel we are moving forward. Parks helped them move forward.

When I was three years old, my father committed suicide, which understandably became a difficult thing for me and my family to deal with. I can remember many days as a kid being angry, sad, defeated, impulsive. Every single time I felt that way, I would walk out my front door, grab a basketball and go shoot. Sometimes with a bunch of friends and sometimes just me at the foul line. For hours. Parks helped me move forward.

Today, with so much uncertainty regarding the economic, political and social fabric that binds us together, our mental health is more important than ever. The CDC reported in August that 40.9% of survey respondents said the pandemic had negatively affected their mental health, to include anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. This figure is alarmingly up 3-4 times over normal rates.

As a profession, we are always trying to make the argument that we are essential, and the opportunity to cement our story is at our doorstep. As illustrated by record attendance across the state, our residents see the essential value in what we do, parks help everyone move forward.

The Health and Wellness Committee is actively looking to increase mental health and wellness programming and initiatives, and welcomes your ideas! Email me at jlang@eastgoshen.org with your ideas, stories and suggestions!

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm

Dear Parks and Rec Pro

i love you.

you are awesome.

control what you can control, throw the other stuff out.

take tomorrow off, you deserve it.

need a sounding board, call Derek Dureka, he’s a great listener.

when we emerge from this, we will better because of your efforts.

see you in the park.


your community

Parks and Rec in the Time of Corona

Love in the Time of Cholera, written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1985, has become a modern literary classic. It follows a young couple in love, torn apart multiple times by fathers, communities, circumstances, infidelity, who in the end somehow see all those scars as beautiful experiences and grow old together. The book’s title is completely misleading, cholera only plays a minor part in the story. The coronavirus is not playing a minor role in our story right now.

The coronavirus has come in like a thief in the night, virtually by day break changing they way Americans see and interact with the world around them. So much of what we do as park and recreation professionals relies on people wanting and needing to be near each other, and that is just not an option right now.

I wish I had answers for every question swirling in my head, because I know the PRPS membership has the very same questions. We are still vital. We are still essential. One only has to look at the crazy spike in trail use across Pennsylvania to see that our residents still need our parks in their lives. Programming is the hurdle, day to day, that’s what we do. One could argue that our programming efforts are MORE important now than ever. With families stuck inside 24/7, we can play an integral role in making that a beautiful experience rather than a destructive one. Convert as much as you can to online platforms and get active in new ways, host a food drive or maybe create a COVID mask sewing group.

But it can’t stop there. I ask you to do two more things.

One, tell your Township Managers and elected officials about your programming and have residents email them that what you are doing is vitally important. Literally, email residents and say “please email the Township Supervisors” that this Teddy Bear Hunt was important to your six year old. How many of us have been to a Supervisors meeting and seen decisions flipped or postponed based on one resident’s opinion in the crowd? I certainly have. Plant that resident.

And two, share your programming and communication ideas, successes and failures with your fellow PRPS members. Whether that is simply through your neighboring municipalities, a PRPS District or through the Facebook “What’s Up P & R” page we are collectively Stronger Together.

I am an eternally positive person, and I know we will come out better for this “Parks and Rec in the Time of Corona” experience. But we do have a dogfight ahead of us. Our residents need us right now. Our families need us right now, and we need each other right now. Let’s roll up our sleeves and be Stronger Together.

Take care!


It’s time to get smashed!!!


Not you and me…it’s time for spotted lantern-flies (SLF) to get smashed! Last fall, East Goshen Township did a SLF “Smash a Thon” and it was a ton of fun! We kicked off the campaign at our Pumpkin Festival with a proverbial “first pitch” as I dressed up in a SLF costume and let the kids wack me with pool noodles!

This fall, I figured it was time to challenge some of my friends across the great state of Pennsylvania! After all, many of us are increasingly being affected by this devious, little invasive species! The 2019 fall campaign dates will be Monday, October 7th through Thursday, October 31st and our goal is 1,000,000 smashed SLFs!

Here’s how it will work!

  1. Register your community by emailing me at jlang@eastgoshen.org
  2. Download the official smash score sheet at: https://eastgoshen.org/spotted-lanternfly-smash-a-thon/
  3. Market to your community however you see fit – feel free to give weekly prizes etc.
  4. Weekly scoring will be totals from Sunday to Saturday for a given week.
    1. 1 point – Smashing one SLF
    2. 50 points – scraping one egg mass
    3. 100 points – having a tree treated or removing a Tree of Heaven
  5. Email me your community totals each Monday by 12pm to be posted to the leader board on the PRPS Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/PARECANDPARK/?epa=SEARCH_BOX
  6. The winning community will have the most SLF smashes per resident (to make the playing field even) as of the end of October 31st.
  7. I encourage everyone to have fun with it! Have residents post pictures to #SLFsmashcampaign and your social media pages!
  8. The community that ultimately comes out on top will win bragging rights, and the much coveted “Golden Fly Swatter”, to be presented at the PRPS Fall Membership Meeting.

Let’s get smashing!

How to replace a legend…


In late 2013, I accepted the Director position here in East Goshen Township and met Mr. Frank Vattilano. He had been the Director here for twenty-five years and had what lovingly could be called a cult-like following. I shadowed him for two weeks and everywhere we went, it was nothing but bear hugs and tears. He had a verbose, story telling air about him, he would meander between topics with the community just as all our grandfathers do at holiday time. My first reaction…this is awesome. This community obviously loves parks and recreation and cares about the professional staff that administers it. That said, I cannot tell you how many people gave me a smile and said “you have big shoes to fill”…

Here are some of my recommendations for “filling their big shoes”…

1) Embrace their awesomeness – they were probably really good for the community! Don’t feel intimidated by your community’s affection for an outgoing Director…that same affection can come your way!

2) Be confident in your abilities – you were chosen to be the legend’s replacement for a reason…the selection committee chose YOU over plenty of other qualified people. Celebrate the legend for what he or she was, but know that you are going to kick butt over the next twenty-five years.

3) Know your park and rec talking points – whenever someone said the “shoes” thing to me…I acknowledged Frank was awesome, then immediately told them 2-3 things they could look forward to under the “Jason” regime. Control the conversation…

4) Tell people you aren’t blowing things up (even if you are). Over the prior 25 years, East Goshen Parks and Rec had motored along and the community loved it. When I started however, I had my “objective” glasses on and could see we needed some work. Individuals, groups and communities don’t like being overtly told they’ve been doing things the wrong way for years…be tactful and nuanced when discussing wholesale changes.

5) Take a deep breath – replacing a legend takes time. Find ways to engender confidence in your leadership through small easy victories, you will get there!

Momma I Made It!!!

Montana (L) with fellow speaker Heather Mitts

I am a very positive person… a “3/4” full kind of guy, believing that what I do matters. That working weird hours away from my family is worth it, that I make a lasting difference in my community. However, just about every single day, I sit at my desk, and need some sort of pep talk…and I usually go back to this story.

A couple of years ago, East Goshen Parks and Rec hosted an event called “Next Up”, a night of female only speakers for a teenage female audience…a night of empowerment. It was well attended, the teenage participants were awesome, engaged and loved hearing stories from our State Representative Carolyn Comitta and U.S. Gold Medalist Heather Mitts (soccer).

Our opening speaker was Montana Leaks, an Allentown native (like myself), who was a senior at West Chester University, and its Student Body President. I met her in May before the event, signed her up, and then didn’t give it another thought until the event approached.

She emailed me about two weeks before the Next Up event, and asked if her mother could come. “Of course!” was my response…but I couldn’t help notice further down in the email stream a subject line of “Momma I Made It!”

Immediately following our meeting in May, she emailed her family with “Momma I Made It!” in the subject line. Her email then went on to speak of sharing a stage with a State Representative and U.S. Olympian…you could almost see her chest swell with pride in the email, it was awesome!

I take encouragement in knowing that my department played a significant role in her realizing her efforts towards excellence had paid off. She was no longer working towards being accomplished, she knew that she was accomplished. Montana now believed in her own personal efficacy…powerful stuff!  She is now in graduate school, and I am sure doing splendidly well. I hope all of us as people have had that moment, that wonderful moment of personal clarity where we instantaneously know that we belong, that its our moment, that we made it!

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