What is—and isn’t—critical thinking

and how we can use it to improve ourselves and those around us

Whenever I’ve talked about the need for critical thinking, I’ve noticed that those who need it most are usually the ones who agree most—but for other people!

Maybe this stems from our volatile society, but our collective exasperation (outrage?) at others’ points of view is certainly exacerbated by a lack of critical thinking by all parties.

I don’t consider myself a master critical thinker, but at least I can see how most political ads break every rule of sound and fair reasoning. (Of course, their purpose is to vilify opponents with innuendo, appeals to irrational fears, outright lies, distortions and half-truths; and a creative lack of depth, breadth, clarity or fairness. For that, they do a pretty consistent job—however unprincipled!)

But let’s start with clarity.

What critical thinking is not: using a judgmental spirit to find fault, assign blame, cancel, or censure.

What critical thinking is: using a disciplined thought process to discern what is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.

After all, we are what we think. Our attitudes, feelings, words, and actions are all determined by the quality of our thinking. Unrealistic thinking leads to disappointment; pessimistic thinking spurns joy; practical thinking builds productivity; grateful thinking grows appreciation; and affirmative thinking leads to possibilities and opportunities.

Our brains do a pretty good job in identifying patterns and fixed procedures that require minimal consideration. It allows us to function efficiently in familiar zones and predictable routines. And hardwired in all of us is a prioritized egocentric core to protect our personal interests. But increasingly, our progressively diverse world and its unrelenting pace of change requires analytical thinking that is more vigorous, more complex, more adaptable, and more sensitive to divergent views—if we are not to degenerate into the dystopian futures of our movies!

That kind of elevated thinking is reasoning, which draws conclusions about what we know, or can discover, about anything. To reason well, we must intentionally process the information we receive. What are we trying to understand? What is its purpose? How can we check its accuracy? Do we have a limited, shaded, or jaded point of view? What is fact, what is evidence, and what is interpretation? What is the question or problem we are trying to solve? What assumptions are in our inherent biases, and how can we move away from them? What are the ultimate implications or consequences?

Our reasoning, therefore, needs standards with which to measure, compare and contrast all the bits of information in order to come to a meaningful and fair conclusion. Such intellectual standards include clarity, precision, accuracy, significance, relevance, logicalness, fairness, breadth and depth.

In the absence of these reasoning standards, we default to our self-centeredness, which inevitably leads to gnashing of teeth, biased irrationality, and social regrets. But when we vigorously apply these standards, we develop a capacity for fairmindedness, rational action, and healthy societies. This intellectual clash for the mastery of our own minds frames two incompatible ends:

Virtues for fair-minded rationality          Vices inhibiting fair-minded rationality
intellectual humility                                        intellectual arrogance
intellectual autonomy                                    intellectual conformity
intellectual empathy                                      intellectual self-centeredness
intellectual civility                                            intellectual rudeness
intellectual curiosity                                        intellectual apathy
intellectual discipline                                      intellectual laziness
intellectual integrity                                        intellectual hypocrisy

Here is a starter set of questions for better thinking and reasoning, drawn from the critically acclaimed book Critical Thinking, by Richard Paul and Linda Elder:

Clarity: Could you elaborate or give an example?
Precision: Could you be more specific?
Accuracy: How can we verify or test that?
Significance: Which of these facts are most important?
Relevance: How does that relate to, or help with the issue?
Fairness: Are my assumptions supported by evidence? Is my thinking justifiable in context?
Logicalness: Does what you say follow from the evidence?
Depth: What are some of the complexities of this issue?

Informed reasoning leads to better self-management, better understanding and relationships between people and groups—and ultimately, a better, more cooperative society. And let it begin with me.


The Case For Keeping It Simple

We all want to put our best effort forward when we serve our communities. Often we can get wrapped up in dreaming up ways to make our programs and events bigger, and therefore better. While this instinct is natural, I’d like to posit some ways that keeping recreational opportunities simple can have benefits such as promoting inclusivity and equity, preserving your (and your team’s) sanity, and ultimately help you achieve your programming goals.

Note: For the purposes of this blog post, the words “program” and “event” will be interchangeable.

Promoting Inclusivity and Equity

Running programs require resources, which require money. While each municipality may have a different philosophy on the role of finances in Parks and Recreation, one fact remains true: Every community has residents in varying economic situations. As additional activities are added, the cost of running your event increases, equating to an increase in the fee charged to participants. Sadly, some families are priced out of programs if the fee is too high. While scholarships can help offset this financial challenge, the truth is some families won’t even consider asking for a discount if the advertised price is too high for their situation. By keeping programs focused on one or two central activities or attractions, you can offer a less expensive and more inclusive experience for your community.

Preserving Your (and Your Team’s) Sanity

As more aspects are added to your event, there is more for you and your team to coordinate and manage before, during, and after the event. While everything may look perfect on paper, when you add people to the equation, there are countless challenges that can arise. Maybe a vendor calls and says they will be late. Maybe 10 volunteers signed up to help, but only 5 showed up. Maybe you communicate instructions to a team member in charge of an activity, but as soon as you walk away to check on another area, that person changes the rules (and not in a way that improves the execution). The point is, people all have their own opinions, level of work ethic, personal issues, and unlimited facets that can cause problems that you have to solve. 

To be clear, I am not saying people cannot be trusted. This is just a disclaimer to consider who is on your team and their strengths and weaknesses to determine if the additional activities will enhance your program or lead to headaches and unfortunate optics. Know who you can rely on, and what your team can handle at this point in time.

Achieving Your Goals Through Simplicity

Keeping your programs simple actually allows you to more effectively run them at a larger scale in the future. For example, maybe you run a vendor fair that is simply an opportunity for residents to stop by and purchase from the sellers. Once you have the core activity solidified, with safe and effective arrival, setup, and breakdown logistics, you can add another layer if your team can handle it. You can add a simple kids activity like a movie so parents can shop without distraction. Maybe you bring in a food truck or live music. Allow yourself and your team to stand firmly on one step before climbing the entire staircase. Would you rather rush into a full production, be overwhelmed, and potentially encounter safety issues, or would you rather take your time, successfully manage all of the aspects, and run the event you actually wanted to share with your community? Furthermore, you can use participant feedback to build the event around what your community wants.

A Word on Expectations

Residents may have expectations about what a program or event should include, and how things should be run. Often this is based on an event from somewhere else, or an imagined scenario in their head. You can control this to a degree. In your marketing, only advertise activities that you know 100% you can deliver. Allow any additional items to be icing on the cake. As long as you deliver everything that you explicitly promised, you have done your job. You can take feedback into account as ideas, but do not feel like you let anybody down if you hear comments about what “should” have been included in the event. This is your program, and even if you’ve inherited it from someone who held your job previously, you have the right to adjust it to your style and make your own mark on the event.

In Conclusion

There is a place for extravagant Disney-like experiences, but ultimately our work as Parks and Recreation professionals is to foster social connections. It’s not about the shiny attractions you have at your event, but the community experience it offers.

Invisible Women

When planners and developers fail to account for gender, public spaces become male spaces by default.

My daughter strongly recommended I read the bestselling book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez. She helpfully loaned me her electronic copy, and I learned so much from it I bought my own copy. And in turn, I recommend it to you.

Invisible Women, by Caroline Criado Perez

In its pages, the author argues that the gender gap is both a cause and a consequence of the type of unthinking that conceives of humanity as almost exclusively male. It was surprising to me (being exclusively male since birth), how widely and how often this bias crops up, and how it distorts the supposedly objective data that increasingly governs our lives.

She covers a lot of territory. The book’s six parts cover Daily Life, The Workplace, Design, Going to the Doctor, Public Life, and When it Goes Wrong; and includes such intriguing chapters as Can Snow-Clearing be Sexist, Gender Neutral With Urinals, and One-Size-Fits Men.

Of particular interest to park and recreation professionals is a section addressing city and park planning and use. She cites a 2016 article in The Guardian that asked why we aren’t designing places “that work for women, not just men” and cautions that the limited datasets that track and trend data on gender make it hard to develop programs and infrastructure that factor in and meet women’s needs.

For example, planners in Vienna found that the presence of girls in parks and public playgrounds decreased after the age of 10. They subsequently found, through collecting pertinent data, that single large open spaces were the problem, because they forced girls to compete with boys for space—who largely chose not to. But when the developers subdivided the parks into smaller areas, the female dropoff was reversed.

They also addressed the park’s sport facilities. “Originally these spaces were encased in wire fencing on all sides, with only a single entrance area—around which groups of boys would congregate. And the girls, unwilling to run the gauntlet, simply weren’t going in.” The simple solution? More and wider entrances. They also subdivided the open areas and sport courts. Formal sports like basketball were kept intact, but they also provided space for more informal activities, in which girls were more likely to engage.

In another example, Malmos, Sweden, discovered a similar male bias in the way they’d traditionally been planning urban recreation for youth. “The usual procedure was to create spaces for skating, climbing and painting graffiti. The trouble was, it wasn’t ‘youth’ as a whole that was participating… It was almost exclusively boys, with girls making up only 10-20 percent of those who used the city’s youth-directed leisure spaces and facilities.” So they began asking what the girls wanted—and the resultant new areas are well-lit and split into a range of different-sized spaces on different levels.

Such a gender-equitable approach doesn’t just benefit females alone, but extends to the economy. When sports funding goes mainly to organized sports, which is dominated by boys, that which was meant to benefit everyone equally, simply doesn’t. Sometimes girls’ sports aren’t provided for at all, which means girls must pay for them privately, or not participate at all. Such detrimental consequences then ripple into the present and future health of half the population, and the overall economy. One study concluded that a certain increase in the city’s support for girls’ sports could “lead to a 14 percent reduction in future fractures due to osteoporosis, and the investment will have paid for itself.”

Perez concludes that when planners, developers and programmers “fail to account for gender, public spaces become male spaces by default.” This is not a niche concern: “if public spaces are truly to be for everyone, we have to start accounting for the lives of the other half of the world.” It’s not just a matter of justice: it’s also a matter of personal health, welcoming placemaking, social equity, and simple economics. And it starts with collecting meaningful gender-sensitive data.

Do you know the Difference between Sponsorship and Fundraising?

I notice that these words are often used interchangeably and that could land you in hot water!

Fundraising is connecting people to causes they love and wish to support with their personal (or business) donations. “No goods or a service” is the phrase that is used in the tax language on the receipts.

“Sponsorship is for the purpose of achieving commercial objectives. Philanthropy or monetary donations, on the other hand, are in support of a cause without any commercial incentives. Money is donated simply for the good of the cause with no ‘strings’ attached” (from nonprofnetwork.org)

Sponsorship has an expectation of some kind of commercial return, such as generating new business, brand recognition, or another measurable result. The primary piece to this relationship is access to an audience or group of people. In this type of relationship, a sponsorship “package” is offered and sold to a business, and they benefit from the reciprocal relationship. Whether its tax deductible is debatable but that is usually unlikely, because they ARE receiving goods or services at a certain value from you.

Sponsors have access to your audience

Putting a value on the sponsorship package or “deal” is when you determine how much a sponsor should pay for the activities, benefits, and the website and social media exposure they will get, all outlined in a proposal. This is not the same for every sponsor. Understanding the revenue model of the sponsor and what the motivation or benefit is for them is critical to this step. Always be sure you’re not offering something you cannot actually deliver.

This kind of relationship also requires you to provide data or statistics to show them the value they received, particularly if you’re asking for support again in the future.

Now, there are grey areas in between, for example, event sponsors.

An event sponsor is any person or company that provides something free (money, services, products) to increase the value of your event. Sponsors are key to your event because they add incentives that will draw people to your event or help you cover costs.

This could be use of a venue space, tickets or an art item for a silent auction, t-shirts for your gift baskets, or gift cards. They are freely given, they have a value, and what do they get in return? Publicity. Access to your donors, guests, and their family. So this is still a form of sponsorship and providing tax receipts and language in this case can be tricky.

I hear a lot of Parks & Recreation professionals saying that they need to get sponsors and donations. Yes. But I encourage you to take the time to get to know your donors, encourage philanthropic and big hearted gifts that are freely given because someone loves your mission and your impact in the community. These gifts and relationships are the path to the future.

Next, if you can find a business owner who will be a sponsor for an event because they strongly believe in your mission and your event, and want to support you and the audience you serve, then enter into that agreement and accept the sponsorship and happily promote their support to your audience. If you work with a business that is all about the numbers, their marketing dollars and what social media and print media exposure they expect in return, the stats and data they want to see, perhaps a request to access your mailing list or have major exposure at your events — consider passing on those. These companies know what they need for the dollars they are investing in the sponsorships, and unless you are a well-established enterprise who can devote someone full time to “sales” – which is what sponsorship amounts to – it’s a landslide of work and can really get out of control quickly.

This is just a little blurb to get you pointed in the right direction. I encourage you to read more about the differences between sponsorships and donations, and then set up the processes and proposals that work best for you. Good luck!

PS: Refer to IRS publication 1771 for information on tax language and always talk with your tax accountant or solicitor when you are unsure how to set up or word donation and sponsorship language.

PRPS Members “Level Up” This Spring!

by Jennifer Fean, CPRP, CPP, Northampton Township, 2021 Leadership Academy participant

“What’s Your Engagement Score?”  That is the question that members will start to hear this Spring!  PRPS and the 2021 Leadership Team have collaborated to introduce an exciting, new incentive program encouraging all current members to “Level Up” their engagement this Spring. 

The “Level Up” program is designed to add points to a PRPS member’s engagement score.  Every time a Parks and Recreation professional and member of the Pennsylvania Parks and Recreation Society volunteers, they will receive a certain amount of points.  Those points are added to the engagement score on your member profile under the “Engagement” tab.

Every time an active member of PRPS joins a committee, attends a webinar or conference, writes an article or a blog post, earns a certificate or simply logs in to the PRPS website www.prps.org, points will be added to the volunteer’s engagement score!

Networking and engagement are crucial in any profession, but in Parks and Recreation, the best ideas are born when information is shared and ideas are merged.  Engaging with other professionals to achieve a common goal not only benefits the task at hand but fosters the community and allows growth in the work that we do.

Take advantage of the many opportunities PRPS offers to further professional development, enhance skills, connect with peers, or volunteer for a committee and build up those points!  Earn enough points and members can earn a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Badge.

Each time a professional earns a “Level Up” badge, their name will be entered in a drawing.  At the Bronze or Silver level, earn a t-shirt, water bottle, or other awesome PRPS swag.  Each awarded Gold Badge honoree will be entered in a drawing to win a free conference that year!  Can your district earn the most gold badge members?  Start getting engaged now, because points reset every year!

What are you waiting for? Login to www.prps.org and Level Up now! PRPS challenges members to volunteer and get involved on a committee, run for a leadership position on a branch or in your district, or compete within your office or district to gain the most points1  For complete information, a list of opportunities and point values, visit the “Level Up” page at www.prps.com/levelup.  Stay ahead of your colleagues!  Level Up today!

“New Kid” In Town

Recognizing challenges and providing guidance for smoother staffing transitions.

By Derek Muller – Montgomery Township in Montgomery County, PA

Your trusted employee of several years (to several decades) has moved on, and your established groove is thrown off. Enter the new employee tasked with new responsibilities in a new municipality with a whole new culture to learn. It’s a lot. Change is hard. It’s inconvenient. This article is for supervisors and newly hired employees alike. I don’t have a “how-to” guide on how to skip the growing pains that come with this transition, but I hope this post provides insight to smooth out the process and open a dialogue on how we can better assimilate new employees into their positions and keep our organizations on track.

The Trial By Fire Approach

Let me start by saying there is merit to the “trial by fire” approach to training new employees. No, it’s not the smoothest method. It’s the quickest way to assess someone’s natural strengths and areas of improvement, and arguably new employees learn more information faster with this method. With that said, it does have its pitfalls, and I hope the rest of this article helps clarify when this approach is appropriate, and when it may hinder the growth and development of new employees in relation to the overall success of your organization.

Challenges Facing New Employees

No two municipalities are exactly the same, and no two employees are exactly the same. Their specific needs may vary, but here are some common challenges that face new professionals:

 Shifts in Responsibilities

I’m willing to bet most of us entered the Parks & Recreation field through programming. Some were camp counselors, lifeguards, seasonal instructors, etc., but for the most part it’s the ground level aspect of running programs that attracted us and kept us invested. I remain involved because I had a supervisor early on who encouraged me to develop programs around my interests and hobbies. In my first turn as a head facility supervisor, I suddenly went from program developer to security guard. Needless to say, the day-to-day of the job was not nearly as appealing once the novelty of the promotion wore off. Community and organizational culture and needs can shift the responsibilities that fall under Parks & Recreation Professionals. Keep in mind that new employees may be experiencing a bit of a shock as they make this move from a previous position, or as they enter the field for the first time.


The notion of “replacing” someone is pretty misleading. Expecting new employees to come in and do the job exactly the same as their predecessor is unrealistic. This is also true of the community’s adjustment to the “new kid”. Comparisons will fly around, and often the employee will hear “X used to do it this way.” This is extremely frustrating to constantly hear. As a supervisor, be sympathetic to this reality. You’ve probably been through it as well. Encourage your new employees and give them time to find their path. A great story about living up to expectations and navigating this particular challenge can be found in a previous article by Jason Lang, titled “How to replace a legend…”

Conflicting Personalities

People are difficult. It’s tough when you are trying your best to start new programs or increase efficiency and all you meet is resistance. Maybe it’s the first time the new employee is managing a team and setting their schedules. Maybe there are established employees who have been there a very long time, and they like the way things are or the amount of control they have of the operations currently. If you can help to facilitate productive communication between employees, you help set up the new employee for success.   

Proactive Steps To Help With This Transition

This may be a good article for another day, but briefly, here are some things you can do to help your new employee with their transition:

  • Communicate! – Let the “new kid” know your expectations. Recognize and help them navigate the challenges they’re facing. While you don’t want to overwhelm them with information, share the information as it becomes pertinent.
  • Don’t expect the new employee to just “figure it out” – This will lead to stress and lower productivity. Chances are you’ll also end up frustrating residents and other employees within your municipality that need to collaborate with your department. Give the new employee space to learn, but coach them when you can.
  • Provide Resources – Sharing documents from previous events and initiatives will help the new employee learn about your larger programs and community events. Make it a habit to store all of your documents in a place where you can easily access them on your organization’s server. Make it a policy that your current employees do the same for the inevitable transition down the line. You’ll be glad you can access these files at a moment’s notice when the time comes.

Are you in the position of coaching a new employee? Are you the “new kid” in town? I’d love to continue the conversation. Email me at dmuller@montgomerytwp.org if you have any thoughts on how we can further support our new professionals.

Mental Health Awareness

by Jason Cerkan, Recreation Manager, A Pocono Country Place, Property Owners Association

The pandemic has been filled with ups and downs and many mixed emotions, information, and knowledge. From isolation to fear of the unknown many people we know may have experienced some form of depression that they may not have experienced before. Isolation led to many unfit people.

When someone is not leading a healthy lifestyle, we often times look at the outcomes in physical fitness terms. Seldom do we talk about mental health and the role it plays in our lives and the illness that may occur. People can not see how another person is truly feeling inside. Mental health impacts everyone’s quality of life and includes our passions, relationships, and experiences. Someone can be born with a genetic predisposition for a mental illness. Our brains can also sustain psychological traumas.

How To Be Supportive

When someone experiences a mental health challenge, here is how you can be supportive:

LISTEN: Let someone really express their experiences. Being someone they can talk to is essential when giving support.

BE NON-JUDGMENTAL: Don’t criticize or minimize the way they feel. You may not be able to understand exactly what they’re going through, and that’s ok.

ASK WHAT, NOT WHY: When you ask questions, avoid asking ‘why’ questions, and instead ask ‘what’ questions. Asking why can have a judgmental tone even if you don’t mean it that way.

GIVE INFORMATION – DON’T DIAGNOSE: Don’t assume they have an illness or condition. Provide direction to resources that can identify and treat mental health issues.

ACT AS A BRIDGE: You can connect someone to mental health resources. Resources include family, school guidance, mental health professionals, and organizations like Navigate Hope.

TEAMMATE IN SUPPORT: Being supportive doesn’t mean your duty is to ‘fix’ someone. Mental health is complicated and solutions aren’t overnight. As a teammate, the best support you can give is by being a trusting ear, helping to navigate resources, and acting as a source of encouragement.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic there were many people who would not have otherwise been lonely, depressed or down. It is important that we acknowledge mental health not only for ourselves but for others. We need to embrace open communication of mental health challenges and be able to provide direction to help others before crisis arises. There is no shame in asking for help. There are tools and treatments to respond, treat and manage mental health issues.

Dare To Lead

by Tonya Brown, Mechanicsburg Area Recreation Department

Leadership is not about titles or the corner office. It’s about the willingness to step up, put yourself out there, and lean into courage. The world is desperate for braver leaders. It’s time for all of us to step up.

My vacation book title.  Dare to Lead by Rene Brown, was one I would highly recommend.  Thru the years, I have read piles of leadership books but, this one is much different in that you evaluate from a different perspective.  I feel it takes you to a place where you’re on the outside of the situation, looking inward from many different lenses.  What can we do better?  What questions should we be asking?

The main question “How do you cultivate braver, more daring leaders, and how do you embed the value of courage in your culture?”  Since I am on vacation and brainstorming ahead to our annual staff retreat; pages 106 & 107 caught my attention.

Daring Leadership – Modeling & support rest, play and recovery.

After the past 16 months, we all really need to take a deep breathe, sit back and relax.  I know it is not in most of our vocabularies.  I was brought up by parents, that I don’t remember ever taking a sick day or a mental health day.  In fact, you were perceived as weak if you didn’t fight through those aches, pains or sicknesses.  According to the National Institute for Play, lack of downtime, has a negative effect on our productivity.  “If we want to live a life of meaning and contribution, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play.”

https://daretolead.brenebrown.com/ Click on this link to personalize your desire to lead, from books, podcast, quotes, ted talks, and so many resources to assist you and your staff to become the leaders your community

Building your volunteer program- Tips for maximizing volunteer impact

by Colleen Kenny, Upper Dublin Township Parks & Recreation

A few weeks ago, I wrote this blog post about managing invasive plants. One key element of many successful management programs is capitalizing on volunteer involvement. So, whether managing invasive plants, running events, or helping with other department programs, how do we make the most of our volunteers?

Host volunteer events often

While it may take some extra work up front, holding regular volunteer events can help your volunteers to become more self-sufficient. Think of them as training events. After just two events, my regular volunteers remember their plant identification and begin independently assessing where work is needed. Regular events also allow your “super volunteers” to rise to the top. They can build excitement and momentum around your volunteer program, generating more interest within the community.

Identify and enable your “super volunteers”

Wherever I’ve worked with volunteers, a few individuals have always risen to the top. I like to call them my “super volunteers.” These individuals are deeply invested and willing to shoulder a greater number of tasks. As they grow confident in their work, they can often begin leading volunteers on their own, allowing us, as professionals, to magnify our impacts. To best enable these volunteers, consider a few questions:

  • What training do they need?
  • What certifications or waivers are required?
  • Can they access tools and equipment to share with other volunteers?

Explain the “why”

When kicking off events, remember to explain why we’ve asked people to come out and do all this work. For invasive plant removal events, I remind volunteers that they are helping native plants and wildlife. Are you supporting a good cause? Hosting an event that builds community value? Remind your volunteers why their work is so valuable.

On the flipside, many people do not necessarily come out for the cause, but for the sense of community they feel when volunteering. Remember to work opportunities for community building into your event. Schedule in time for your volunteers to gather around a coffee or snack table. Engage strangers in conversation together to get them talking. These small things can go a long way toward developing a richer volunteer program.

Remember, your job is to manage

Many of my best volunteer days haven’t involved lifting a tool at all. While it may be tempting to focus on the task at head, remember that we as leaders are there to manage the people. Rotate through groups, check on any needs or questions that come up, and take lots of photos. It’s often a different kind of work day than you may be used to, but will help your program to run more smoothly.

Celebrate successes

Take lots of photos and share them on social media with a thank you to your volunteers. A little thanks goes a long way!

Are we building people—or just running programs?

If recreation and parks are really essential services, are we measuring what truly matters?

Part of why recreation and parks doesn’t receive more of the rave respect it deserves, in my opinion, is because most people notice programs far more than the objectives behind them.

That’s not surprising. It’s always easier to focus on outward expressions than on internal improvements of the mind, body and soul.

When the summer pop-up gathering space arrives on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, so do outdoor yoga, fitness challenges and games galore. Tucked between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Philadelphia’s City Hall, the family-friendly urban park attracts a friendly, laid-back crowd with food, music, beer gardens, movies, golf, games and more. Credit: Visit Philadelphia.

But that’s where the common disconnect begins, I believe.

When we providers declare that recreation and parks are essential community services, what does that mean to our constituents? What is our bottom-line purpose of enabling quality leisure experiences? And are we cognizant enough of it?

• Is it just a walk in the park—or is it physical exercise, stress relief and mental rejuvenation?

• Is it merely a Paint With Me class (with wine!)—or is it stretching skills and enriching relationships?

• Is soccer practice just about scoring a trophy—or is it developing fine motor skills, building teamwork, modeling good sportsmanship, and growing cooperative social interactions among diverse teens, teams and talents?

• Is it merely an object of public art—or is it celebrating a cultural heritage, invigorating a downtown district, connecting destinations, and attracting visitors, tourists and new businesses?

• Is it just an evening activity—or is it character development, anti-ganging intervention, and preventative treatment for abusive and addictive behaviors?

Are we strategically planning with such measurable outcomes in mind, or are we satisfied that it was “fun”?

Here’s the crux: Are we building people—or just running programs? Are we purposefully collaborating with experts from other disciplines in meeting people’s needs? And are we measuring what truly matters?

Because here’s the other just-as-important part of our jobs: we must show it.

Moving beyond ROIs, attendees, and social media stats, are we documenting personal and social good in our value statements? Can we point to specific cases of cleaner resources, less waste, crises averted, problems solved, and healthier lifestyles? Are we enriching our neighbors’ lives, improving the livability of our cities, and ensuring a more equitable future?

If we are to convince a wider audience of the great worth of our indispensable services (and, in turn, influence higher funding and priorities by decision makers), we must deliver whole goods. We can’t merely insist that recreation and parks are essential, we must intentionally demonstrate it—and prove it!

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