Flat Tires and Cavities
What are the buzz words surrounding your community these
days? Along with politically charged
words such as “economy” and “jobs,” “health” is at the top of the list. NRPA advocates daily on Capitol Hill to make
clear the important role parks and recreation serves in improving community
health. As a park and recreation
professional, you also can and must have a voice. And now is the opportunity to do so.
Whether a park naturalist or recreation programmer,
groundskeeper or director, full time or part time—every employee within your
organization must be able to convey how your services affect health. They must be able to convey it to the child in
the football camp, the parent considering swim lessons, the senior walking the
trail, their own friends and families, and your mayor and city council making
the tough decisions. Park and recreation
agencies have decades of irrefutable success in improving health, yet they by
and large have failed to make this known.
The average community member does not know what you do. They recognize that parks provide certain
amenities and that in order to do so, the grass must be cut and the fields must
be lined. They also recognize that pools
need filters and summer camps need staffing.
But, they do not recognize the tremendous impact park and recreation
agencies such as yours have on the health and wellness of so many within your
Reading and academic
programs. Swimming lessons. Retreats for troubled youth. Healthy meals. Computer lessons. Programs that emphasize teamwork. Programs that inspire confidence. Safe havens for latch-key kids. Physical activity. Nutritional education. Youth employment. Sports.
Senior programs. Therapeutic
How many of these are your agency involved in? How many more can you add to this list? You market these programs, register
participants, and provide the sites and facilities to host these services, yet
the majority of your community members still do not “get it.” Why? Perhaps
for the same reason people don’t service their own car or conduct their own
dental exams—this isn’t their expertise. However, due to the fact that most of us have
had a flat tire and a cavity at some point in our lives, we have learned to recognize
the value of properly maintaining our cars and teeth. You are pivotal in helping your community
members understand the value of the programs and services your agency provides.
Today, people are talking openly and extensively about the need
to improve the health and wellness of themselves and others. The health-focused conversation of today is
the “flat tire” and “cavity” opportunity that can help society see the truly
important role park and recreation agencies have in benefiting health and
wellness. Do not miss this opportunity
to inform others about what your agency is doing to improve health. Whether you’re
talking about obesity reduction or late-night teen programs, make sure you
communicate about the outcomes and impact that these programs have on the
health of your community. Interject
yourself into conversations that are happening locally—in your newspapers, on
social media, or right in your own facilities. Bring together a number of staff that understand
the need to do this and that are on the ground every day “fixing flats” and “preventing
cavities.” Ask them to share stories
that you can then leverage in a broader, more visible way. Solicit feedback from those in your programs and
using your parks and facilities. Work
tirelessly to uncover success stories and share them broadly to make your
impact known. Turn these into talking
points and sound bites, and incorporate them into how you and your colleagues
communicate with others on a daily basis.
It is through all this that you can anchor your agency as essential and
valued when it comes to health in your community. Do this now before that flat tire rolls off
the rim and that cavity requires a root canal.