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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Getting the Most out of a Professional Conference

PRPS Fall Mtg17-4. RasmussenProfessional educational conferences offer a wide array of opportunities to enhance your vocation, but it is often easy to miss out if you don’t plan ahead!  Here are some tips to help:

Before you go:

Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead.  Look at the guide – in print, on-line, or via the app (most conferences use one now).  Plan out an agenda for all of the sessions and events that you wish to attend.

1. Plan back up sessions in case your first choice gets cancelled, or is too full, or is a dud.  Be willing to be flexible.

2.  Plan some sessions outside of your primary work focus area – there are some great ideas out there that span vocations!

3.  Create a wish list of solutions that you’re looking for at your job – and actively seek out people who could help you solve those issues at the conference.

4.  Take a stack of business cards to hand out.  It’s a quick and easy way to make a connection with someone.

Once you’re there:

1.  Re-visit your agenda after you arrive to confirm your planned sessions and schedule.

2.  Be social.  I’ve learned just as much by networking and talking to peers at the social events as I have from the educational sessions.  Get out of your comfort zone if you’re not an extrovert by nature.

3.  Go to available vendor socials – they usually get a good venue and will buy you food (and drink).  They also have a great insight into current trends and coming attractions.

4.  Have a strategy to tackle the exhibit hall.  Understand that many vendors are also very knowledgeable in their field and are excellent resources.  They are there to sell themselves and their products, but they also WANT to talk to you about their industry!

5.  Plan to take a second look at the exhibit hall – there’s so much going on, you probably missed something good the first time around.

6.  Get out of your hotel room.  Explore your area.  Get more out of your visit than just the conference.

Once you get home:

1. Review your notes and sort through your literature as soon as possible.  Tackle this before you forget important ideas or connections.

2.  Cement and move on the good ideas and follow up with project leads.  Schedule time to implement your solutions.

3.  Follow up with any connections that you made – confirm contact information and proceed with projects.

Remember that you have a limited time – maximize the opportunities.  6 months from now you won’t remember a nap, and you won’t remember sitting in the hotel room watching TV.  You WILL remember the extra time at a social, the extra session, the extra vendor you talked to.  Make it count.

Watch for more details to come soon about the Annual PRPS Conference & Expo on April 2-5, 2019 at the Penn Stater Conference Center, State College. Registration will be open in November. Expo spaces are still available but are beginning to fill up. Reserve your booth soon! You can find more information at www.prps.org/2019Conference.

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

action-adult-advice-1120344.jpgby Pete Ramsey, Guest Blogger, President, Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council

March Madness for me isn’t about basketball.  It is the NCAA Wrestling Championships.  This year Cael Sanderson, Penn State head coach explained in a press conference how they repeatedly train to recover and scramble out of bad situations.  It happens in wrestling all the time.  It kind of defines the sport.  There’s someone right in front of you with the single-minded goal of putting you in a bad situation.  Sanderson feels the more you are willing to operate outside your comfort zone, the more adaptable you become.

The American Military has the same approach.  They refer to these situations as VUCA environments.   Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.  These situations are destined for negative outcomes if we are not prepared.  I am not suggesting that careers in the turf industry come remotely close to military service.  But there is a lot we can learn from people who are successfully operating at extreme levels.  Turf at a tenth of an inch or working in professional sports is an extreme.  There is still significant stress that comes with careers in this industry.  Chief cause being the weather.  Add some unrealistic expectations, lack of funding, politics and unique personalities to the mix and out comes a stressed out turf manager.  We have all been there.  Did you ever notice the people who are really there for you when you’re down is your family or your closest peers?

The best information and support I have ever received has come from interaction with my peers.  Sometimes at seminars or often outside of work.  There will never be a replacement for face to face exchange of information and fellowship.  Taking to Twitter doesn’t solve everything.  Avoiding the uncomfortable only results in it never going away and our inability to deal with it.  Chances are a colleague has successfully navigated situations you are struggling with.  Sanderson cited a few specific keys to Penn State’s success that we can apply to our careers:

1. Fundamentals – you can never get away from them.  It’s amazing how quickly things can go wrong when we stray from the fundamentals we know.

2. Evolution – Our industry is going to change whether we like it or not.  Expose yourself to the cutting edge of what is new and consider if it can improve your performance.

3. Weakness –Stop avoiding the areas you are most uncomfortable.  Your spouse can help you identify them.  Failure is an opportunity.  Avoiding it is tragic.

4  Perspective – Alter your perspective.  Stepping outside your comfort zone will force you to look at your situation differently.  Volunteer work is a fast-acting prescription for looking at things differently.

A Tangible Reminder

Remind Finger

A few years ago I decided to rip out our hallway restroom while my wife and son went away for the long Columbus Day weekend. The vanity and lighting were from the 70’s, the door and some of the vinyl flooring was chewed up from a puppy training experiment gone wrong, and everything was in a desperate need of an update. Now I consider myself “handy-ish”, but not an expert by any stretch. I spent the next four days demoing, picking out new finishes, paint colors, watching some Youtube tutorials on cutting angles for trim and wainscoting, and largely living in that 8 x 6 area like it was a cell from Shawshank Redemption. After my second 18 hour day, I was beginning to daydream about what else I could have done with all my “me time”. It mostly consisted of seeing how far into an NHL season I could get on my PS3, or how many hours of binge watching the latest peak TV series I’d relinquished in hopes of surprising my family.

By mid-day Monday of that Columbus Day weekend, the transformation was beginning to take shape and by the time my family arrived home later that evening, we had an entirely new bathroom. From the mirror and lighting to the sink and vanity to the flooring and wall treatment, everything was updated. Beyond surprising my family and seeing their smiles, I sat back and felt proud about the work I had put in. There was a visible transformation in front of me that I was responsible for.

I often think about projects such as this while I’m sitting behind a computer at work. I think about how tangible and immediate the satisfaction of that project was and how in our line of work that isn’t always the case. Now yes, there are special events, park and trail projects as well as new facility construction that scratch that visual satisfaction itch. Something as simple as a clean pool or a freshly cut athletic field can give me that feeling too. What I’m referring to is the day to day administrative grind of reviewing budget numbers, facility bookings, programming, payroll, insurance and preparing report after report after report. And yes, there are some that really enjoy a great spreadsheet or pie chart, and I can appreciate that as well (where my excel-heads at?!), but it never comes close to the satisfaction gained from a concrete accomplishment.

It was around this time that I found myself at one of our parks in the evening. It was such a different environment than the daytime crowd that we experience during business hours. It hummed with activity as tennis lessons and pick up-basketball created the rhythm section for the evening’s soundtrack. The athletic fields were in full swing, and friends chatted leisurely as they meandered around the walking trail. Children buzzed through the playground equipment with their imaginations in full overdrive. It. Was. Awesome! It was also a complete “duh” moment for me. THIS is the tangible outcome of the work we do!

Ever since that ah-ha moment, I’ve encouraged my staff to make sure they get out and experience the many accomplishments of all their time and energy. It can be as simple as popping into a program, or taking a day trip, or just going for a walk through a park or trail. The faces of the many individuals and families enjoying the work you’ve put in and seeing these wonderful facilities in use has been a much needed reminder of where to look for that visible, real time satisfaction. If you are like me, it’s all too easy to put in your eight (plus) hours staring at a screen, glued to a desk covered in papers. It is so vital to get out and experience the wheels you’ve help put in motion, born from the passion you’ve put into it, and to feel the pride that accompanies you when you sit back and take stock of your work. And if that doesn’t work, you can always renovate a bathroom.

I am the greatest…and so are you!!!

If I stood in front of one hundred random people and flashed a picture of the boxer to the left, and said, “Who is this?”, everyone would say, “It’s obviously Muhammad Ali.” If I pressed a little further and asked for an Ali quote, I am sure someone would tell the group that he famously said, “I am the greatest!.”

If I asked the audience the same question about the boxer to the right, how many would know his name? That gentleman is Mr. Sugar Ray Robinson, owner of a professional boxing record of 173 wins and 19 losses. Notwithstanding Ali’s boasts, Robinson is considered the greatest boxer of all time, but most of us have never heard of him.

You are probably wondering, where’s the analogy here? It’s all about perception. Ali was a master of public perception, while Robinson was just a master with the gloves. When it comes to park and recreation professionals, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has some of the best and brightest minds in the business. But at the end of the day, we all go back to our Boroughs, Townships, and Cities and our performance is evaluated almost exclusively by our residents and elected officials.

Therein lies your opportunity. Your community’s perception of your department, your programs and parks and ultimately, your value, can be steered by unleashing your inner Muhammad Ali! He wasn’t the greatest, but he said he was…and now the general public believes it.

There are a few ways you can cultivate public perception. Tell people about your successes. It sounds simple enough, but your community needs to know their investment in parks and recreation is worthwhile. It may be a pain in the butt, but every department should complete an end of year report with facts, figures, pictures and a clearly framed progression towards goals. Boast about your programs, your staff, your parks. Quantification is also useful, numbers mean something. I’ve started to use the iSOPARC (System for the Observing Play and Recreation in Communities) to leverage park user totals into data findings that are impactful. In 2017, I was able to report to my Board of Supervisors, that our parks had over 225,000 visitors that translated into a health care savings of $7.3M! Did I mention iSOPARC is completely free to use, all you need is an iPad!

Just as boxers (and WWE wrestlers) seek the championship belt, park and recreation professionals should also submit their best programs for awards. Our communities and elected officials have limited knowledge of the truly positive impact the parks and recreation field has on quality of life. But do you know what they do understand…awards. Elected officials love to come to ceremonies, shake hands, stand for photos and that is a good thing. That is part of their role, and part of your role should be delivering them those opportunities. Practically speaking, our residents have so many recreational pursuits they can take part in, its a competitive field. Pasting a big flashy gold sticker on your program flyer that says “award winner” instantly gives you credibility before you’ve even said, “want to sign up” or “25% sibling discount.”

You might be saying right now, I hate to boast, I hate to brag. The field of parks and recreation is an amazing profession. We teach kids to swim, ride bikes, feed families, combat obesity, breakdown barriers, reintroduce retirees to social networks, and so much more. That isn’t an “I am the greatest” speech, that is straight fact; we make people’s lives better. Tell your community you are awesome because you are.

 

 

 

Knowing Your Community

youth soccerNo two Pennsylvania communities are the same, so it’s no surprise that no two local parks and recreation agencies are the same. Each serves different residents with different needs and desires. Each has different access to funding. From the very small to the very large, from rural to urban areas, from no staff to hundreds of employees, Pennsylvania parks and recreation agencies come in all shapes and sizes.

Today, local parks and recreation agencies are charged with the responsibility to play a significant role in improving the quality of communities. Stepping up and playing this role means knowing your community and the residents you serve very well.
Studying your demographics is an important step. What is the median age, how fast/slow is the population growing, how much time do residents spend commuting, what percentage of the population is over 65/under 5 years of age, what is the education level and the poverty level of your residents? There’s much more to understand, such as the state of the local economy, the available resources in the community, the value residents place on parks and recreation, and the top issues and challenges facing the local community.

Local challenges for your community may be the explosion of travel sports teams and children specializing too early in one sport, food insecurity, an aging population, a sedentary population, a declining or a growing population, high rates of childhood obesity, escalating costs for program participants, lack of early childhood education, private organizations offering competing programming, lack of facilities for programs, and lack of funding for programs. Your list may include some of these issues, plus many others.

For public recreation to meet residents’ needs, programs that appeal to multiple generations, interests and abilities are offered. In part, this is done by determining trends and responding to challenges. The big question is – how do you determine what your community is faced with?

To stay ahead (as much as you can) of the challenges that your community is and will be faced with, and to offer recreation programming that addresses these challenges, hold regular meetings with your staff and volunteers, meet with the public, be visible at community events, be out in your parks and recreation facilities, keep up with the local news, survey the public, evaluate your programs, attend professional conferences and workshops, and network with community organizations.

Your mission statement, vision statement, and core values should be well developed. Undertaking a strategic plan is a great step to knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your recreation programming, discovering the opportunities for growth, and identifying the threats to your success. A strategic plan will provide a clear vision for the future of your recreation programming and serve as a guide to best serve your residents. A strategic plan will help you figure out what role your parks and recreation agency should play in improving the quality of your community.

Explore Pennsylvania Trails

We’re celebrating trails in September in Pennsylvania!

We’re fortunate to have thousands of miles of trails of all types to hike, ride, and paddle. Just like local parks, they are waiting to be explored at little to no cost.

Trails connect places, are one of the best guides to nature, and more than 75 percent of Pennsylvanians believe that along with parks they are an essential part of our health care system.

PA Top Trail State

Where to Find a Trail

Anyone who wants to visit a trail but is not sure where to go can find 12,000 miles and events listed on the website www.explorePAtrails.com.

The website has recently been refreshed.  Key things to visit on the site now include a Calendar of Events, the Trail of the Year and a Featured Trail.  But the best part is you can search by trail name, your county or zip code, or the type of trail use to find your perfect path.

If your local trail is not on there, you can add it.

Learn more about trail experiences on this short video which is being placed on TV stations throughout the state during the month.

Schuylkill+River+Trail+(1)

Trail Partners

DCNR helps coordinate a 20-member Pennsylvania Trails Advisory Committee that represents many different types of users and stakeholders.  It advises the department of the use of state and federal trail funding.

The committee recently finished its 2017 Trails Report that is a great information source about planning, closing trail gaps to reach a goal of having a trail within 15 minutes of every Pennsylvanian, and lots of accomplishments for the year.

Pursue your trail!