Our society is founded on the idea that we are all responsible for the well-being of our community, country and world. Currently, there is a bonding and branding, if you will, of young professionals in a diligent park and recreation industry. Along with the resurgence of youthful employment is the constant mainstay of strong, respected and solidified community agencies. There is a consistent rise in importance and value for younger professionals to be involved with community organizations.
How can we expect people to understand what it means to give back to their communities without examples from the park and recreation industry, which arguably is founded and financed to support “the people?” There are many gains to be had through involvement in community organizations, but we will narrow our focus to six primary benefits for today’s young professionals:
1) Young professionals learn the significant value of helping others as part of their mission in municipal, state and federally funded jobs. A professional experience within a community organization provides the opportunity to see how programming or community service-learning work directly impacts constituents.
2) Young professionals develop leadership, communication and organizational skills through practical experience within an organization. Furthermore, they gain a sense of responsibility and empowerment through working within their community. Most of these attributes, as well as basic experience in programming, are often listed as requirements in job descriptions for park directors or superintendents. These skills can be covered in a classroom, but are truly put into practice in a community organization setting.
3) Young professionals learn the importance of the connection between subject matter and everyday life in the community. Young professionals carry what they have learned in the classroom into living and working within the community. They face, head on, the challenge of reconciling public perceptions of programmatic offerings with ideas of who deserves access to what and why. This is the best opportunity for young professionals to throw themselves in the mix. Often, one of the best ways to find solutions is to experience the problem directly.
4) Young professionals learn how to cooperate and work as a team with diverse groups of people including adults and peers with differing backgrounds and experiences. Our cities, states and country are becoming more culturally diverse every day! It is truly an exciting time and opportunity for young professionals to associate with community groups to identify changes and trends in their areas. Working with a variety of people will challenge and help them learn to recognize resources already available in their neighborhoods, as well as how to leverage their knowledge and experience as a resource for others.
5) Young professionals will develop a sense of citizenship and stewardship. Having the opportunity to see interns work in public parks and community organizations is truly inspiring. Community groups are formulated to impact community patrons in small clusters based on their mission/vision. Citizenship for others and responsibility for resources (people, land, etc.) is gained through attachment to those communities. According to park and recreation directors, cultivating this attachment benefits young professionals throughout their careers.
6) The last benefit is one we almost overlooked: Young professionals receive recognition for their involvement from the community and its citizens. A common critique of the recreation industry is that it struggles to self-promote. Being recognized for achievements and successes is a valuable part of nurturing the self-efficacy needed for young professionals to develop into outstanding employees. More importantly, working within community organizations gives young professionals an opportunity for a healthy dose of recognition, sending them forward as confident additions to our society.
There are a number of benefits associated with young professionals’ involvement in community organizations. These benefits are not mutually exclusive of one another and provide advantages to the organization, the community served and the young professionals themselves. The benefits range from skill development to create better employees and citizens to finding meaning and value in helping others. As an industry tasked with serving communities, involving young professionals in local organizations creates an excellent opportunity to fulfill that mission while preparing confident and effective park and recreation professionals for the future.
Tyler Tapps, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at Northwest Missouri State University in the Recreation Department of Health and Human Services. Emily A. McKenzie, MS, is a doctoral student at Oklahoma State University in the Recreation Management and Therapeutic Recreation program with an emphasis in Outdoor Education.