If you’ve read the Future Leaders column in this magazine, you’re familiar with some of the volunteer leadership of Tom Venniro. Venniro, chair-elect of the NRPA Young Professional Network and Young Professional Representative for the Mid-Atlantic Region and Administrators’ Networks, helped establish that monthly column—and he contributes regularly to it. He is the recreation supervisor for the Town of Chili (New York) Recreation Department and specializes in recreation programming at all levels—but with a special focus on keeping youth active and connected with nature.
Venniro gives energetically to the parks and recreation field and is quickly earning national and regional recognition for those efforts.
He is Region III representative for the New York State Recreation and Parks Society, and president-elect for the Genesee Valley Recreation and Parks Society (GVRPS). He is also a recipient of the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration Externship (2011) and the NRPA Young Professional Fellowship (2010). Venniro has served on numerous conference committees and speaks regularly at various conferences and universities. Here, he addresses what motivates him to volunteer on behalf of his fellow young professionals.
You have been instrumental in leading NRPA’s Young Professionals through the Association’s transition to a networks-based model. What motivated you to volunteer to lead in this area?
My involvement with NRPA and the Young Professional Network began with my participation as a Young Professional Fellowship recipient in 2011 at the NRPA Congress in Minneapolis. Through this invaluable experience I was introduced to the Network system and a lot of what NRPA strives do in advancing the profession. After meeting some wonderful people and attending some informative meetings at Congress, I decided that volunteering for NRPA was something that I wanted to pursue so that I could also help advance my profession.
Following Congress, I was active in Network conference calls and eventually took a leadership position. I view my involvement with NRPA as a professional development opportunity and a way to give back to the profession that has given so much to me.
Based on your close involvement with the Young Professionals Network, what do you see as the greatest needs among those just beginning their careers in parks and recreation? How are you and the other network leaders trying to meet those needs?
Those just starting their careers in parks and recreation are in need of guidance and access to professional resources. Addressing these two needs has been our central focus within Young Professional Network, and over the past two years we have made great strides in doing so. Some of our noteworthy efforts have been creating a monthly Parks & Recreation “Future Leaders” column, providing webinars, serving on the NRPA Program Committee, operating a career center at Congress, hosting a Take a Student/Young Professional to Lunch Day (also at Congress), and offering a year -long mentorship program with distinguished professionals of the Administrator’s Network. Through the support and guidance of NRPA, the Young Professionals Network has been able to accomplish a lot for its members— and we have some great initiatives on the horizon.
What advice do you have for other young professionals who’d like to have greater association involvement and networking opportunities? What aspects of volunteering have held the greatest personal and professional rewards for you?
I encourage young professionals to make their voices heard. There are so many opportunities to get involved on local, state, and national levels. All you need to do is show your interest and volunteer to contribute. Within an association, members are always looking for help, whether that means serving on an executive board, joining a committee, or providing feedback on an issue. Go out and get involved. Speak up, and people will listen. What we have to contribute as young professionals is very important. We are the future leaders of the profession.
Volunteering has allowed me not only to build a significant professional network, but also to establish great relationships with some of the most brilliant parks and recreation people in the nation. At the end of the day it’s about giving back—and I like knowing that I have contributed to this great profession.