Acquiring the benefits of professional organizations goes beyond simply joining. Park and recreation state associations offer a platform for young professionals to be proactive in their careers and make a meaningful contribution to the profession. State associations create an atmosphere where ideas can be exchanged through conferences, events, publications and other avenues. What separates state associations from other organizations is the face-to-face interaction you can get on a regular basis.
Steven Jordison, executive director of the Iowa Parks and Recreation Association, believes networking is how to get the highest value for dues paid to a state association. He says that having a role model nearby who understands the same circumstances you are going through and can offer advice is invaluable in professional development.
“Active members can learn new ideas in the field and develop relationships with other professionals through attending conferences and social events, which are designed to create opportunities to get to know others who do their jobs really well at the highest level,” says Jordison.
In North Carolina, several individuals have worked hard to establish a young professional group in the state including Jason Tryon, assistant director of parks and recreation at Indian Trail. North Carolina is already seeing the benefits of active young professionals. In different regions of the state, many have taken the initiative to organize periodic events designed to foster networking opportunities and promote professional development. Tryon encourages young professionals to be as involved as possible, as it can only benefit them and others in the field.
“We all have something to offer through our own unique experiences and perspectives. Our profession is unique because we are encouraged to share information, which will help young professionals as we rise up the ranks together,” says Tryon.
It has been my own experience that actively participating in state associations can pay dividends for professional growth. The ability to network and build relationships with those in your region can make all the difference in being a more effective public servant. I have spent a lot of time visiting with state association members across the country, and the young professionals who are quickly becoming leaders in the field are the ones who actively sought involvement on the state and local levels. Ultimately, state associations offer an opportunity to give back, which can be the greatest reward and benefit of membership. The park and recreation industry advances only when its members are active participants and contribute to bettering communities across the country.
So, get started! Here is how you can get active in your state association:
1) Show up
Woody Allen is often quoted as saying, “Eighty percent of success is showing up!” Sign up for membership in your state association and show up. Attending conferences, social events and workshops, participating in mentorships, etc., will give you valuable professional development opportunities throughout your career. Most states offer volunteer opportunities at conferences to help facilitate education sessions. This is a great way for students or young professionals to attend a conference without having to pay the registration fees.
2) Start or join a young professional group
Contact the executive director of your state association and ask if there is a young professional group within the association. If not, ask how you can help form one. Most executive directors would love an up-and-coming young professional to work with and engage others just starting out in their careers. They will also know what activities would be most effective in that area.
3) Participate in a committee or on leadership teams
Most state associations have various committees to help produce publications, conferences, awards, social events, etc. There are several opportunities during the year to get involved in state association programs and activities. Joining and being active will help you take advantage of those opportunities. In addition, run for office. Most states have open positions for board of directors, treasurer, secretary and other positions to oversee association happenings. Taking on a leadership position will ensure networking and learning from others.
4) Network, network, network
When you go to conferences or activities, put yourself out there and meet other professionals. Networking can come easier on a state level. Young professionals can forge relationships with other members, which can pay off when needing referrals or recommendations for programs and projects or even when looking for a new job. Professional meetings and leisure gatherings create the opportunity to meet and mingle with peers. Organization members are generally willing to help other members so these settings are a great way to brainstorm with others who are also looking to share and learn new information.
5) Share information
Whether you are a student, recent graduate or young professional, you probably know someone else who is just beginning their career in parks and recreation. Share what you learn from getting involved and help in their professional development as well. Also, share experiences with other colleagues about what programs work and do not work. That advice is more pertinent on a local level when offered by those facing similar circumstances.
Skyler Beck, CPRP, is the Valmont Park Manager for Boulder Parks and Recreation.