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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Discovering the best in your board members

My Top 5 Tips

“It’s been a great ride!” is a comment I often make when reflecting upon my twenty-two years serving as director of the York County Rail Trail Authority. Collectively, working with the great volunteers who have served on the Authority, we have learned from our challenges and celebrated our successes. During times of “ups and downs,” I have also learned much about what motivates individuals to serve on boards and how to channel that motivation toward advancing the organization as a whole. Organization sustainability is very often dependent upon this balancing act between individual motivations and collective mission.

Looking back to the personal relationships that I have been fortunate enough to experience with the many volunteers who have served our organization over the years, I offer these five tips that may help those who similarly work with board members:

  1. Understand the type of board you are serving.

There are many different types of boards, each suited to serve specific organization or corporate structures. Common types of boards and their distinguishing characteristics can be found at www.policygovernanceconsulting.com. A director’s job description often varies according to the type of board leading the agency. The York County Rail Trail Authority is a working board, with individuals being recruited to serve based upon specific skills or talents that they can bring to the types of projects we do. Knowing this gives me the opportunity to find the gift in each member and draw upon that particular gift to advance our work. And I have found that volunteers love to be recognized for their special gift and acknowledged for how their gift leads to our success. As a director of a working board, I can deliver the message, “We could not do this without your _______.”

2. Seek to become actively involved in the board recruitment process.

As director, it is my responsibility to track the terms of each Authority member and prepare for future openings. Serving as a voting member on a committee that recruits, interviews, and recommends individuals for appointment to the board validates my role as director and ensures that the recruitment process centers on agency mission. As director, seek to establish written guidelines for recruitment. Then, implement those guidelines and become an active recruiter. During the initial stages of the recruitment process, openly discuss your recruitment efforts with all members of the recruitment team and encourage them to share their efforts.

3. Draw upon strengths and talents.

An effective director needs to know his/her board members – what they enjoy doing, what their time commitments are, how they prefer to communicate, and what they consider to be their strengths. The golden rule in working with any volunteer is to not ask them to do something that falls outside what they consider to be their strengths or what they enjoy doing. Asking for this type of “mix-matched” service is asking for a disgruntled volunteer. Don’t go there! If you cannot match a director with a particular task that needs doing, do it yourself. Each time that you are able to draw upon a talent, skill or interest of a particular board member, you will each share that special energy that comes from success.

4. Become a professional friend.

I highly recommend a balancing act of professionalism and friendship. The director is often the “face” of the organization, and therefore needs to demonstrate professionalism through exemplary appearance and behavior. On the other hand, being in the trail recreation business often encourages me to present myself as a friend of the great outdoors – occasionally wearing running shoes and fleece vest to work. Doing so, professionally, often leads to finding common ground with board members and supporters of your organization.  Nurturing these types of professional friendships can strengthen your agency and help to attract the type of future directors that understand and actually live your agency’s mission.

5. Respect…always respect.

This is the bottom line, and the one I will leave you with. As a director, we seek to gain the respect of board members, volunteers, donors, co-workers, peers, and the community in which we work. We gain this respect by showing respect. It is my hope that the tips I have offered above will help you to show respect in all you do to advance our parks, recreation, and trail work across Pennsylvania.

Gwenyth Loose, CPRP

Executive Director

York County Rail Trail Authority

Creating the “New Normal” In Parks Management

“Where are all of the dandelions?” I was searching for that bright yellow flower while visiting one of our parks and could not find it.  To be clear, I know that a dandelion is a non-native plant, but it was the dandelion, or lack thereof, that alerted me to the fact that our parks could be supporting more.

At their core, parks should exist to support the recreational, physical, mental and emotional needs of us.  They should also exist to provide the basic necessities for nature to survive and thrive.  In most suburban parks, we’ve failed miserably.  Our current park maintenance practices revolve around preserving a grass monoculture that requires too much time and resources – both of which we never have enough of.

There is a place in our industry for the manicured lawn – most of which is sports-related.  In hindsight, rather than designing a few pollinator gardens around an athletic field, we should have been designing the athletic fields around fields of native plants and trees.  If your community is like ours, most of your parks are already constructed without the luxury of ever getting a mulligan on that design.  What if you could change the look and functionality of your parks and reduce maintenance hours while establishing a “new normal” in parks management?

The “new normal” is different for every community, but the visual expectation of what a park should look like is what we sought to alter.  For us, it had to start with being okay with imperfect lawns and giving nature a presence where it hadn’t existed before.

How can you create the “new normal” in your parks?

  • Find the Low Hanging Fruit:  Our very first step was raising our mower decks and mowing less during the summer.  Following that, we started questioning why a location is even mowed.  Mowing is 40% of what we do annually.  If we were going to find time to work on our maintenance backlog, mowing was where those hours would come from.  Conveniently, nature also benefits from this approach.
  • Educate, Retrain & Engage Staff: Gradually introduce topics like no-mow areas, native plants and green infrastructure.  Agree upon new maintenance practices and standards. Ask staff, at all levels, where they think change could occur. 
  • Keep the Public Informed: Educate the public on the why, where and how of what you are doing.  Not everyone will agree with the vision, but remaining transparent and listening will build confidence.  Celebrate your successes on your various marketing platforms.
  • Maintain a Presence: “Low Maintenance” doesn’t mean “No Maintenance”.  This will be a different type of maintenance than what your residents are accustomed to so having a presence is important.  For example, mowing the edges of no-mow areas indicate that a space is still looked after.
  • Trust the Process – With a good plan in place and a little bit of time, your agency will begin seeing tangible benefits like more time to focus on other projects and reduced fuel consumption and wear-and-tear on equipment.  These are two easily measured meters of success. Another benefit, you’ll see a lot more nature also using your parks.

The “new normal” needs to start somewhere – community parks sound like a great place to me.   

Recreation and Parks’ Internet of Things

How parks and recreation contribute to everything important!

Love ParkHow parks and recreation contribute to everything important!

In the spirit of bringing holistic thinking and collaborative services to solving people problems, this simple list depicts how park and recreation systems contribute to improving personal and community living. By no means is it comprehensive, so please add your suggestions to expand this view!

Health & Wellness
Healthcare Costs
Healthcare Delivery
Medical Recovery & Immune Benefits
Connection to Nature for Human Health
Alleviation of Stress, Depression & AD disorders
Physical Activity & Healthy Lifestyles
Physical, Mental, Emotional Therapy
Mitigate Obesity and Chronic Diseases
Youth & Family Development
Nutrition, Healthy Food Production & Choices
Preventative Treatment for Criminal & Risky Behaviors
Prevention & Response for Opioids & Drug Abuse
Improved Functioning of People with Special Needs
Evidence-based Health Improvement Programs
Tobacco Bans in Public Spaces

Environmental Sustainability
Wildlife Habitat Preservation
Carbon Sequestration
Water Quality & Supply
Wetlands Protection & Riparian Buffers
Biodiversity
Energy Costs & Conservation
Pollution Reduction
Air Quality
Connections to Nature
Brownfields Restoration
Climate Change
Preservation & Conservation
Heat Island Reduction
Natural Resource Management
Stormwater Management
Conservation Best Practices

Social Equity
Community & Neighborhood Engagement
Access to Economic and Socio-cultural Goods
Diversity & Inclusion
Cross-cultural Respect & Interaction
Gentrification
Children & Youth Services
Child Nutrition & Food Distribution
Equal Access to Parks & Recreation Services
Underserved Populations
Health Disparities
Neighborhood Green Spaces
Social Justice & Public Administration
Workforce Development

Economic Stimulation
Destination Tourism
Placemaking & Events
Concessions & Vendors
Connective Trails, Water Trails
Recreational and Cultural Attractions
Business Development & Attraction
Employment & Workforce Development
Recreation & Sports Equipment Sales
Property Values
Zoning & Enterprise Districts
Outdoor Recreation Industry
Growth of the Sharing Economy

Infrastructure & Resiliency
Multimodal transportation
Urban Planning
Traffic Mitigation
Caretaking & Maintenance
Gentrification
Trail Access & Connectivity
Stormwater Management
Disaster & Emergency Preparedness
“Clean, Safe & Ready-to-Use”
Streetscapes
Climate Change Adaptation & Mitigation
Landscape Architectural Design
Facilities & Resource Management
Technologies & Work Automation
Big Data & Anticipatory Intelligence

People Development
Community Leadership
Teambuilding and Collaborations
Personal Productivity & Creativity
Student Achievement & Engagement
Risk Resilience
Creative Play
Physical, Cognitive, Social & Emotional Development
Experiential & Lifelong Learning

Community Livability
Safety & Crime Mitigation
Placemaking
Historical and Cultural Preservation
Community Engagement
Forums for Public Art, Entertainment & Expression
Children & Youth Services
Safeguard Park Visitors and Recreationists
Public Spaces & Green Infrastructure
Urban Blight Mitigation
Connective Trails
Public-Private Partnerships
Business Development & Attraction
Research, Public Education & Advocacy

Recreation & Leisure
Aquatics & Athletics
Parks and Park Amenities
Arenas and Event Venues
Concessions and Supplies
Healthy Competition
Nature & Environmental Centers
Hunting & Fishing
Active & Passive Leisure Activities
Cultural & Historical Interpretation
Public Assets & Spaces
Community Gardens & Special Use Spaces
Integrated Services across Disciplines & Jurisdictions
Positive Youth, Family & Adult Development
Quality & Enrichment of Life

Opening the Swiss Army knife of integrated professionalism

Sharing expertise across disciplines and jurisdictions create better solutions.

SwissknifeProfessionalism: it radiates ethics and expertise, competence and character, and a good number of other worthy virtues—all good!

And yet…

What tends to be missing from the mix is enough mixing—among other disciplines. It’s not that we don’t have enough professionalism; it’s that it’s not shared enough.

Studies show that most governments, industries and organizations fail to collaborate across business functions when meeting customer and client needs. Such silo practices create an inability or unwillingness to share data, information, resources, or collaborate with others on shared missions.

For want of collaborative agility in our fast-paced society, a response delayed is an opportunity missed, a solution lost, and a future vanished.

That missing agility-ability is particularly far-reaching in the recreation and park profession. Because modern recreation and park systems are multifaceted physical and socioeconomic structures, they daily deliver foundational needs and essential human services.

Much of what constitutes the appeal and livability of our communities is our direct connection to our public spaces and our natural and cultural assets. Their facilities and features build a strong and resilient infrastructure. Their recreational opportunities bolster our wellness and life satisfaction. Together, our park and recreation systems contribute expansively to a healthy economy, environment and society in dozens of documented, tangible ways.

Park and recreation professionals are among the highest enablers of personal and community wellness, yet are often hindered by a lack of full interagency and interdisciplinary awareness, cooperation, and integrated services. Their public effectiveness in enabling community solutions would only improve with more interaction with their counterparts in public health, social services, community development, public works, transportation, food distribution and other services.

Moreover, many governmental agencies and public organizations do not yet readily identify parks and recreation as a go-to industry to help meet pressing social and economic issues. And while they may be willing to work toward positive change, they are often hampered by politics and/or bureaucratic structures that simply cannot move quickly on opportunities, make timely and productive decisions, or efficiently contribute to innovation.

To bring integrated solutions to complex public issues, we need integrated professionalism. Like opening a sophisticated Swiss Army Knife, we need to access a wide array of sharp professional tools, resources, capabilities and systems. Not only can we then combine savvy specialists and the best resources for the job, our collective synchronization of services spawns innovation, adds value, and reduces costs.

How can park and recreation leaders fashion such a purposeful toolkit?

Begin by focusing on shared opportunities. Construct intentional working relationships within agencies and organizations whose missions coincide with yours. Educate decision-makers and stakeholders on the ways park and recreation services contribute to community wellness. Such tools may look like these:

·  Integrated Professionalism Forum. Facilitate open forums among working professionals in recreation, parks, conservation, health, public works, maintenance, transportation, resources, economic development, therapy and social work, and urban and land use planning.

·  Top Co-op Day. With help from fellow professionals, convene an annual meeting with department heads (or their empowered reps) whose duties include community and economic development, conservation and natural resources, drug and alcohol programs, education, environmental protection, health, human services, transportation, and labor and industry. Build meeting agendas from real world examples and cases of need; plot practical sharing and collaborative resolutions.

·  Cooperative Exchanges. Create themed opportunities to share joint concerns with representatives from state and county commissions who deal with crime and delinquency, children and families, rural affairs, physical fitness and sports, green government, museums and heritage, arts, opioids, etc. Invite members to Park Champion and other public recreation and park events.

These are some of the strategies outlined in PRPS’s new Strategic Plan: let’s work together to shape a sharp new collaborative future! What cutting-edge applications can you apply? What successes have you had? What other transformational tools can you suggest for more integrated professionalism?

Customer Service Training and Trends

Does your staff groan and complain when you announce Customer Service training? Do they dread it, think they are already doing a great job, or just dislike sitting in training? Do we still need Customer Service Training?

Here’s the thing… Yes, your organization needs it. For all the reasons you already know, Live Chat Imageincluding improving your Customer Service or improving parts of it, but also because you need to keep up with changing trends, most of them driven by the online environment. The “customer” is changing in a Google and Amazon “on demand” world. You can get pet food delivered to your door almost instantly. Don’t think that people will wait days to hear back from you on their question about their pool pass.

And – for your staff – do it for them. Give them the tools they need to navigate the sometimes challenging path that includes unhappy customers. Help them not feel beat up at the end of a tough encounter, empower them with the tools they need to say “I can help you with that”, and help them be in control when policies and procedures need to be followed.

Here are some business trends you should know about with Customer Service. Some impact the Recreation sector as much as the business sector:

  • Chat: Use of instant chat is on the rise. What does that look like on the back end? When does a person take over from the auto-responses that get the conversation started? (I also wonder how many chats is that person juggling at once? And where in the world they actually are).
  • Artificial Intelligence: Forbes.com says that 80% of companies will use AI by 2020. That is just around the corner now, after using the statistic for a few years, so I wonder how that will hold up.
  • Social Media Service: This is a big one for Recreation. People have a question, first they Google it. If they cannot find it quickly, they click on Facebook or Twitter and they message either your organization or the universe at large. The Universe does not always provide an accurate answer while they are waiting for your answer. If your answer doesn’t come until four days later or after the weekend, you have a 35 message feed waiting for you to now navigate. But how realistic is it to have someone (the exhausted Director?) checking social media all weekend?
  • Google: People with a question go to Google first, and then they want a human. It’s that simple. The trends are showing less time and patience in seeking out the answer themselves.
  • Remote Customer Service: It’s much more likely now that your Customer Service agent is stateside rather than overseas, depending on the international level of the company you’re dealing with and very likely that person is working from home/remotely. So, within recreation, is there an opportunity to have a designated customer service team who is not actually on site?

Only you can know how busy your organization is and what level of customer service you need to start providing. But keeping an eye on the trends is important.

If you’re not sure where to start, start with social media. Be sure you are posting updates and precise easy to find information to prevent as much confusion as possible from the start. Consider a banner on your website for important things like pool closings, weather related info, holiday event updates, etc. Also, take a look at the back side of your website and what people are most navigating toward.

There is a word that pops up often in the Customer Service field: Customer-centric. That customer-centricity-icon-260nw-1062868253means your processes and navigations and available options need to be tailored for exactly what works best for your customer. The flip side is sometimes that it’s not always what is best or easiest for you and your staff.

This a great exercise during that staff training that you’ve been putting off having! Be aware of what is challenging or what customers are complaining about, what is the customer-centric solution, and then how can you actually make it work on the back end?

This is all important work that will pay off in the long run and it’s important to keep up with the rapidly changing times.

Is Your House in Order?

How many of you can identify20181102_141353_resized.jpg with this scenario?

You have staff scheduled to drag your ball field for an important softball tournament and the infield machine won’t start. They determine it is a safety switch that needs adjusted. They go to your trusty shop toolbox and look for the 9/16ths socket w/ 1/2” drive with the extension and the universal to reach the adjustment to make the adjustment. But when they look for it, they can only find a 9/16th socket in the 3/4” drive. Ok, so they have to use a tool bigger than they need, no big deal right? Only to realize they don’t have a universal attachment for a 3/4” drive to help reach the bolt to adjust the safety switch to get the infield drag operational!

The universal joint was used yesterday to help make a repair to the lift station and was dropped down into the vault. So they decide with the tools they have to remove the seat, seat frame, and two other hose clamps to be able to access the bolt that is now becoming the needle in the proverbial haystack. As the supervisor, you realize the field still hasn’t been dragged and find maintenance staff fully involved in a mechanical operation that has taken on a life of its own. Sometimes the smallest things can trip up your operations and give you pause. Getting to the root of the problem may be right under your nose, or feet as it were. Not only may your toolbox not have all the correct tools you need but they may be so scattered it takes way too much time to find them or account for them.

Back away from the toolbox and look at your maintenance facility. If you have tools on the floor, power tools laying on your workbench, rakes, and shovels leaning in the corner waiting for someone to step on them and re-create a three stooges short, you may have found the problem. Organizing you maintenance facility can take many hours and some creative thinking of how to store and track your tools & equipment.

However, the time invested in creating a well-organized and maintained maintenance facility over the long run can make your crews more productive and efficient than even they thought possible. Space seems to often be an obstacle. You may have opportunities to use the walls to hang equipment to free up floor space. Rafters are also an opportunity for storage. If you simply do not have any more space, it may be worth looking at how the space is being utilized. A re-organization can also produce better results. Heated vs cold storage should also be considered. An outdoor roof or simple lean-to may be just the ticket for those items that can safely be stored outside.

One of my favorite things to do is visit other facilities and not just park facilities to see how others organize their maintenance facilities. Schools, Ballparks, Commercial Landscapers, Cities, Counties, State Facilities, Commercial Facilities. Chances are you know many of these folks and many would be willing to have you visit. Take pictures and ask questions, there’s a good chance some of the best ideas they have were either from their own staff or from other facility operators. And don’t forget to put that 9/16ths socket back where you found it!

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