Are you a young professional? Not sure? OK, let’s take one step back before we go any further. Are you 35 or younger? Do you work at least part time in parks and recreation or a related field? If you could answer yes to both, then you meet the qualifications of the National Recreation and Park Association to be called a “Young Professional.” Do not wait a minute more. It is time to shout it from the rooftops….I AM A YOUNG PROFESSIONAL!
Never before has the identification of a young professional carried so much excitement among NRPA leadership, department directors, state executive directors, elected officials, educators, and the public. Young professionals are not only the future of the field, but they also represent the who “we” are now; they are currently entering up and changing the landscape of leadership by actively pursuing leadership opportunities, stepping into leadership roles when vacancies exist, and thriving in positions that require a new approach. Young professionals currently serve in NRPA or state or regional association leadership positions, and they are strong leaders in their local park and recreation departments (some even run the whole show).
Eight years ago, when my career began, I was extremely uncomfortable being called a young professional. To me, it meant that I was not officially welcomed into the profession, that I was too green to be influential, or that I was too young to make a difference. I wanted to be considered a professional, period…leave the “young” part out of it. Not today! Today, to be called a young professional is a source of pride and possibilities to grow exponentially. Young professionals are no longer expected to sit on the sidelines before being invited to the table; we are at those tables! Leaders in our field recognize the value of our unique skill sets, our education level and certifications, our commitment to professional development, and our dedication and passion to the field. The kiddie table no longer exists; young professionals are recognized as an invaluable asset because of the innovative ideas they have to share.
For those professionals unfamiliar with the Young Professional Network, did you happen to witness the sea of orange nametags flooding the NRPA Congress in Anaheim? That was us! We are motivated and quickly advancing professionals that take pride in our label and distinction because of the strides made as a profession that supports young professionals. Young professionals are strong leaders both within NRPA and in your departments because they are willing to go the extra mile to create a name for the agency and provide programs and services that meet the needs of their communities.
Young professionals are championing the mission and vision of NRPA through the Young Professional Network with efficient communication, leading NRPA initiatives such as Visit a Park Day, and producing informative and educational resources such as the newsletter, The Young Professional. Young professionals are coming to the workforce with a great amount of education. As the next generation of leaders, we know that the workforce requires a higher starting level of expectations. Many young professionals possess graduate degrees and are coming to your workforce with their CPRP (Certified Park and Recreation Professional). Young professionals are highly motivated and ready to make a difference. Hiring a young professional or having multiple young professionals on your staff will instantly modernize your department. They are technologically proficient and bring new perspective to service provision. And finally, young professionals are entering the field of parks and recreation by choice and out of passion, meaning they are driven and excited about the prospect of being leaders in their communities by providing parks and recreation opportunities. They wholeheartedly believe in the value of parkland and programming and seek innovative ways to offer these services to the public.
Being a young professional in no way means that our learning is complete. We are not perfect and have not completely developed as professionals. We seek opportunities to serve under fantastic leaders and mentors that continue to shape our skills, talents, and knowledge of the fields. These leaders acknowledge that one day it will be our turn to step into their shoes—and young professionals know that we will need their guidance and support to progress our capabilities to further the field of parks and recreation.
To be a young professional is no longer a career obstacle…it opens the door of possibility because young professionals are sought out for our creativity, innovation, ability to connect with the public, and our potential. To my peers, do not hide from the distinction of being a young professional. Embrace it, own it, see the value in it, and shout it out loud. I AM A YOUNG PROFESSIONAL!
Kara Kish, CPRP, CPSI, MPAis Assistant Superintendent, Vigo County Parks and Recreation Department, Terre Haute, Indiana (firstname.lastname@example.org).