As the 2016 NRPA Annual Conference approaches, park and recreation professionals across the country are making the case to their supervisors, city councils and mayors as to why this event is worth attending. And to bolster such efforts, there’s nothing quite like guidance from colleagues who have been around the block a time or two. This month, we caught up with Jim R. Garges, CPRP, director of Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation in North Carolina; and Joe Turner, director of the Houston, Texas Parks and Recreation Department, to ask the following question: Why should today’s park and recreation professional — whether seasoned or just entering the field — advocate for attending the NRPA Annual Conference and how would you help them make the case to their supervisor? Not only do both men have decades of experience in the park and recreation industry, both have attended multiple Conferences and, in 2014 and 2013, respectively, their agencies hosted NRPA Conferences. Following is their sage advice:
Jim R. Garges, CPRP
Do you want to be the best professional you can be? Do you want to learn from the best in our field? Do you want to share your knowledge with others? Well, if you find a way to attend every NRPA Conference you can!
After 41 years in parks and recreation, I can’t think of a better opportunity to help prepare you for success in your career than attending the NRPA Annual Conference. Don’t just go to a session about something you already know — branch out and learn a new skill. Step up as you mingle between sessions and introduce yourself to someone new. Stay a few minutes after a session and talk with the speaker.
If you can take one of the facility tours, do it. I’ve never taken a tour at Conference that didn’t result in my “shamelessly borrowing” a great idea. The Local Host Committee always does an outstanding job showing their projects and unique programs. Having been to St. Louis in the past, I know this year will be no exception.
We always encourage our staff to propose sessions for Conference. If any of their sessions are chosen, we allow them to attend. Not everyone is presenting this year, but we have eight people attending. The Program Committee has a difficult task, but the result is always an exciting mix of sessions.
Get to the Opening Session and get fired up about the difference we make. Cheer on the Gold Medal winners and agencies that achieved accreditation and strive to accomplish both at your agency. Oh, one more thing: HAVE FUN!
The park and recreation field is rapidly evolving, and the challenge for the recreation professional is to stay ahead of these changes. The NRPA Annual Conference is an excellent tool for staff development, providing access to a variety of resources that can transform the future of any park and recreation department. Securing local participation in this Conference provides professional staff with a unique opportunity to learn about current recreational trends, meet dedicated and motivated leaders, network and mentor with other professionals, and engage staff in a powerful movement that is changing lives and the way society perceives the impact of parks. This Conference and its educational venues provide the knowledge needed to help shape the way we do business locally. It can all start with one motivated staff and a single idea.
When we hosted the Annual Conference in Houston, this was an opportunity to allow our team members to attend. We are a large agency and struggle with budgets like all park and recreation departments — especially travel budgets. We seized this opportunity to get many of our team members to this Conference and Exhibit Hall. It was great motivation for our entire department. I look forward to seeing many of you in St. Louis this year.
— Samantha Bartram,Executive Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine