Pennsylvania Park and Recreation Professionals Day is July 19

PRPS_Park&Recreation_ProfessionalsDayIt’s a safe bet we can all agree on the following. That when:

•   you visit a park, it is clean, safe, and ready to use.
•   your family goes swimming, the lifeguards are well-trained and the water quality is optimal.
•   your grandchild visits the playground, you know it is maintained to all safety standards.
•   your loved one with a disability wants to camp, swim, paddle or fish, all facilities are well-marked, well-maintained and easily accessible.
•   you attend a public festival, all safety and security systems are capable and functioning.
•   your elderly parents look for enriching and companionable activities, they can always find them.
•   your children attend day camp, you are certain of their safe and appropriate physical, cognitive and social development.
•   you visit urban woodlands, gardens and greenspaces, the attractive assets are well-cared for and healthy.
•   your teens participate in youth sports, they thrive in the coaching, playing, and growing.
•   you want to bike to the park, grocery store, library or work, you are able to make those connections, free from all hazards.

I believe we can agree that these are all reasonable expectations of our park and recreation facilities and programs. And since they are, it is fitting to credit the park and recreation professionals who provide them.

The third Friday in July is Pennsylvania Park and Recreation Professionals Day. It honors the men and women who work tirelessly behind the scenes to provide the high quality programs and facilities we desire and expect in our parks and public spaces.

On July 19, we invite all Pennsylvanians to visit a park and enjoy its facilities and services in a tribute to all our park and recreation providers. And just perhaps they’ll mention a little thanks to the programmer, manager, maintainer, landscaper, facilitator, lifeguard, coach, event organizer or caretaker.

If you have a public event on or near Friday, July 19, we encourage you to make it an official Park and Recreation Professionals Day celebration, with special promotions and publicity. Invite your elected officials and allow them to eye-witness and publicly acknowledge your value to the community at large. Download the resources of the promotional toolkit here to assist in your local preparations. 

Park and Recreation Professionals Day is celebrated during National Park and Recreation Month, and is a function of the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society.

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An Appreciation of Inspiration

Recently CBS News shared an infographic defining generation guidelines. Curiously, Gen X was missing from this graphic. This omission led to some online fun.

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As often is the case with internet funnies, I went down a rabbit hole of Gen X jokes and ended up taking an online quiz to see which Gen X characteristics I inhabit.

  • Independent/ Self Sufficient– Check! That’s totally me.
  • Results oriented– Brushes shoulder off.
  • Embrace hands off management style– Nailed me!
  • Work/Life Balance very important– Yup!
  • Casual Disdain for Authority– Looks over recently brushed off shoulder. Uhh…
  • Cynical– Well….

That last characteristic is a double edged sword. I had fun taking this quiz, but because of that trait, I’m skeptical of its accuracy.

As silly as these tests are, it is beneficial to be self aware of your shortcomings. For me, I realize that if I’m not careful, cynicism can close me off to new experiences as well as inspiration. I’ve found that they often go hand in hand. A new experience can lead to a jolt of inspiration.

Inspiration comes from unexpected places. I was recently at a club to see Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, an English musician with an insanely entertaining live show. I enjoy a wide range of music, but especially appreciate the smaller acts, the more intimate clubs, and the comradery those venues foster.

I came into the show already expecting to be entertained based on past experience. Little did I know that the opening act would accelerate my enjoyment of the evening. I’m a sucker for blending classical instruments with more traditional rock, and punk elements, and the opening act had a cellist that knocked my socks off. It was a performance I had never experienced. I thoroughly enjoyed their set, and was inspired…to purchase some of their music.

*Paying for music, total Gen X thing to do.

One of the last times I was inspired, was at the Annual Conference. Now what traits do a professional conference share with going to a show? For me, I believe the inspiration comes from a place of passion, authenticity and talent. I’ve never walked away from a conference, not being inspired by a speaker, a peer, or a late night chat at a social. Often I find inspiration at the Awards Banquet. (Free plug for submitting awards nominations!) It is such a joy to see and hear what everyone is doing in their communities. New Professional and Agency of the Year acceptance speeches are often highlights for me, and almost always a source of motivation. I could list multiple individuals that have moved me with their words.

But I won’t.

It’s almost Summer and I’m trying to keep the word count reasonable! The talent to implement the programs and projects that propel our members to be recognized is evident. The passion to push through all the hurdles, the red tape, the bureaucracy, the long days, finding a kernel of positivity from a flop, are all part of this formula. Most importantly, I think the authenticity of those that put all of themselves into this profession go along way in penetrating this Gen Xer’s waning cynicism, and breed the inspiration that I’m so immensely appreciative of.

How to replace a legend…

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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!

The Sneaker Blowout – The Power of a Positive Team amidst adversity

power-of-positive-teamUnless you are living under a shell, or not tuned into sports in America, you might have missed one of the most controversial conversations with sports commentary, Facebook, Twitter, and around the water cooler at work this past week. Nevertheless, this is a historical situation in the NCAA basketball over a team, coach, injury, sneaker, player and a lot of money.  This might be a good time to turn into CBS news for details if you missed the incident: Zion Williams Sneaker Incident

Most of you reading this, I would assume would have a position or stance on the issue, as many of us come from the sporting arena. Even if you didn’t, but work in the field of Parks and Recreation, I would hope you understand the importance of the skills learned from being on a team. The intangibles as learned on a sports team:

·         Mindset

·         Personal Drive

·         Mental Toughness

·         Communication – on and off the playing field

·         Motivated

·         Commitment

·         Resilience

·         Perseverance

·         Teamwork

·         Time Management

·         Respect for your teammates

·         Confidence

·         Coachability

·         Composure

This is just a few of the many intangibles learned on a team.

Intangibles can’t be bought; they are learned traits over years of practice, games, conditioning, and being on a team.  Power of a Positive Team is found not only thru the intangibles, but by what some call team chemistry, not to mention the fundamental skills of each player.   Does the one player whose shoe blew out, with hopefully a mere minor injury, affect this team? How will the coach and members of the team respond? What is the lesson for us in the historical event? How do you respond when one of your team goes down? How do you lead when your team is struggling?

The Power of a Positive Team written by Jon Gordon is one that the Mechanicsburg Girls Field Hockey team read over the course of the season this past fall.  This same book is one that can be utilized in any of your organizations to assist with what makes a truly great team.  I could not help to think of this book during this time of the sneaker.  This situation is far more than about a sneaker, money, the company that made the sneaker. It is about an institution.  It is about a program.  It is about a culture.  It is about a tradition.  It is about excellence.  It is about a team.  It is about a process bigger than anyone player, regardless of the money. Money can’t buy a team; money can’t buy the intangibles that this program has represented for decades. 

Does your organization work as a team, and value the intangibles?  Are you a real team? A real leader?

Many people think they are on a team, but a real team is what makes a group of people into a team. Consider the following:

Are your goals your team goals?

Are you committed to the team improving or just you individually?

Do you truly serve your team members?

Does your communication with the players build trust, commitment and team work?

Do you represent commitment to your team, as a top priority?

Do you show respect, love and respect to all team members?

Do you grow from your discussions, and disagreements?

Is everyone on the same bus? Heading in the same direction, with the same vision and mission?

Are you building strong leaders and building a bench?

Does your team work for the bigger cause in order to be truly great?

Every organization has the ability to be a team.  As a leader, it is your responsibility to mold and form a team.  Teams have their struggles, whether it be the blown out sneaker, or a blown out knee.  The WE is greater than ME, and one person can’t make a team but one person can break a team.  Three things you can control daily to make you a great teammate are your attitude, your effort and your actions, and none of these require any special ability or skill.  These require your attention to detail. 

“You and your team face a fork in the road each day.  You can settle for average and choose the path of mediocrity, or you can take the road less traveled and chase greatness. It’s a choice you make each day. Which path will your team take? “The Power of a Positive Team by Jon Gordon Page 146.

More information can be found at: https://www.slideshare.net/ShivShivakumar1/book-summary-the-power-of-a-positive-team

 

A New Perspective on Civility

Civility means different things to different people. So, when we start dialogues in our workplaces about civility or the lack there of, plus the expectations of civility and what that looks like, we have to consider how each of us approaches the topic in a different way.

For example, I was taught that nice little girls are polite no matter what. I spent a large part of my younger years giving a social answer or self-deprecating answer, always folding under in the face of a louder or more strident opinion. Don’t rock the boat; never take a chance on offending someone. INPE0576

Let’s say someone else has the idea “It’s okay for me to always speak my mind, and I don’t care who I offend, it’s my right to say what I think.”

It is upbringing, experience, personality, emotional capacity, moral compass, and more that effects our actions and decisions about what civility is…

In workshops, when we start a dialogue about what Civility “is,” the answers vary widely but seem to follow the theme of how others behave or how others treat us.

Comments about Civility include:

·  I hate when people let the door slam on you. People need to look behind them and hold the door for other people.

·  I want someone to respect that I have different beliefs, and not make comments about my choices.

·  I want him to agree to disagree, and try to maintain politeness with me in future interactions, and I will do the same.

·  When people interrupt me, especially in meetings, its rude and I’d like people to be aware of that and try not to interrupt.

·  I think we should all try to be kinder, and put ourselves in other people’s shoes.

The phrasing is interesting sometimes, in that people often talk about what others should do: “People should slow down and stop tailgating” or “people should stop talking so loudly on their cell phones…”

So, let’s try a different exercise. How are YOU going to be more civil? Because we only control ourselves, right? But we have the power to influence others.

So, let’s try this:

·  Today, I am going to be kind to people, even something small like a smile.

·  I’m going to be aware of the challenges others face and try to put myself in their shoes.

·  I’m going to say hello to everyone I pass on the street, no matter who it is.

·  I’m going to be aware of the mess I leave in the staff kitchen and work harder to clear it up.

·  I’m going to get to know Tom better, since he and I do not see eye to eye, so that we have a more common ground to operate from at work.

Now, THESE have a little more substance to them, they are action based, and they start with “me.” I can influence others, inspire others, affect others, but only control myself.

The next step of civility is to see how long it lasts. It’s human nature that I intend to smile and say hello to everyone I pass in the hallway at the office, until someone is mean to me and then — forget it! People are mean to me so I’m not going to be nice to them… it’s a lot harder to maintain the civility in the face of rudeness, thoughtlessness, and aggressive behavior.

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Take that to a global scale, we see it play out in conflicts all over the country and the world.

So, maybe we can all take a few minutes to think about how we feel about civility. Is it the way I want or expect others to treat me? Is it the way I intend to treat others? And how do we – all of us – sustain it, no matter how another person behaves?

There is no magic answer and it’s not easy, but within our workplaces, it is important that we start conversations about civility, about mutual respect for all people (everyone gets the same hello as the CEO), and how we want our workplaces to feel. The actions then are not pointing fingers at others, but our own ownership for being part of the solution.

Momma I Made It!!!

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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!

Lessons from the Rink

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It was a Wednesday afternoon in April 2017, and I kept checking my phone for alerts. I was waiting on a delivery that would dictate the rest of my evening. Depending on the arrival, I was going to be playing hockey on ice for the first time in my life. In order to do so, I had to have the proper gear. My pants, shoulder pads, shin guards, and elbow pads were all set to arrive between the ever so precise window of 8 a.m. through 8 p.m. I paced my hallway, taking a break to periodically glance out the front door. See, I was invited to join a group of like minded hockey enthusiasts with varying degrees of skill, and our ice time began at 7 p.m.

Around 5:30 p.m. a box large enough to house a “major award” arrived. I hurriedly peeled the stickers and labels off everything and shoved the gear into a bag. Upon arriving at the rink, my heart began to race as the thought of actually maneuvering myself around the ice began to seep in. I had skated before, but turning, skating backwards and, most importantly, stopping were all foreign concepts to me. Beyond that, I never really thought about the order of how to put on this gear. I non-creepily checked out what everyone else was doing. Some did skates before pants; others went pants, then skates.

Having helped my son get ready numerous times over the past year, I mentally checked off the order of that process and managed to get myself ready. Spoiler alert, I was already out of breath. I hit the ice in time to meet at center ice with the rest of the team. Coach had us circle around him and he introduced himself and then asked if there were any FNGs.

FNGs?

Funny New Guys?

Close.

The F, did not stand for funny.

I raised my hand and he skated over to me. “Hey big boy, do what you can and we’ll get you there.” We then immediately started some drills. It had been a long time since I had subjected myself to anything where I was clearly the worst skilled individual out of the group. For the first drill, we were to line up at the far end of the ice and skated backwards as a group to the other side of the ice. I turned myself around like everyone else did and coach blew the whistle, indicating the start of the drill.

Nothing happened.

I was essentially a sweaty statue. I stood there trying to make my legs propel me backwards.

Still nothing.

I then started to drift forward…you know, the complete opposite direction as everyone else. “How are these people making their legs do this?!” Dread began to creep in.  Coach skated over to me, told me not to worry and instructed me to do something called “C” cuts with my skates and to bend my knees a little more.

Right…I was simply trying to stay upright at this point.

Enough time had passed that now everyone was at the other end waiting for the next drill and I was holding them up. All eyes were on me.  It felt like the sitcom equivalent of when you walk up to the chalk board and aren’t wearing any pants.

What have I gotten myself into…?

Some how I muster two “C-ish” cuts with my skates.  My adrenaline-filled brain won’t recall the precise details, but I do remember that the entire row of players started tapping their sticks on the ice with encouragement. It was a beautiful thing. Like a Disney movie, did the music swell as I then skated backwards the entire rest of the way?

Of course not, my back was burning and I felt like my spine was going to pop out of my jersey. I glided forward, hunched over and rejoined the team at the other end of the ice, where I was given further fist bumps of reassurance.

It’s now been a little over a year and a half and I’ve gone back almost every week. Am I now Bobby Orr?

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Pictured: not Bobby Orr after a mid-ice collision.

Clearly no. More often then not, if I catch a glimpse of myself on video, I appear as fluid as the Tin Man in need of some oil. However, I’m continuing to play with the same group trying to better myself as well as helping coach two youth teams. In doing so, I’ve added another layer of life experience and relationships to my journey and most importantly, I’m really enjoying it.

I share this story,  not as a humorous anecdote to fill space, but because I’ve skated away with these three reminders:

1. The importance of having the correct “gear” in order to be successful. For example, education via a degree or certification may have equipped me with knowledge, but what good is that gear if you don’t know how to put it to use? Just because I have shoulder pads and skates, doesn’t make me a hockey player. (see “In the Weeds” for more gear/ tool metaphors) I’ve been fortunate enough to have many coaches along the way help me put my gear to good use.

2.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself in a new/unfamiliar situation. Doing the same activity or duty over and over again can help sharpen and fine tune the skills used for that circumstance, but it doesn’t allow for growth outside of those skill sets. However, putting yourself out there and trying something new will help you expand experiences and grow skill sets. As an example, back at the beginning of my District 2 Presidency, I had to attend my first PRPS Board of Directors meeting. There were similarities between that meeting and my first hockey practice. I wasn’t exactly sure what my role was, and I wasn’t familiar with the format of the meeting. (Probably pulled the sweaty statue move too) It can be uncomfortable at first. However, each time afterwards I became more familiar with what to expect and how to contribute. Having gone through that process has equally enriched my understanding of PRPS as an organization, as well as put me in the path of some great peers.

3. Sincere encouragement goes a long way. We’ve all been FNGs at one point or another. Whether it’s your first day of a new job or your first time attending a conference, it’s nice to have someone who knows the ropes give you feedback and support. I implore everyone to do their part. If you notice someone new at the next conference or district gathering, give them a stick tap and help them on their way to becoming a better member of our society.