I confess, I was a major parks and recreation kid. I still have a drawer full of brightly colored, oversized and permanently stained turquoise t-shirts from every summer of my youth spent at the Middletown Department of Parks and Recreation Day Camp. I vividly remember the daily fight for a seat at the counselor’s picnic table, the monthly field trips to Water Wiz, those rainy days spent overtaking the nearby library and coming home so sweaty and dirty from hours of endless play that all my parents could do was hose me off in the driveway. It was there that I learned to play tennis with Counselor Mike, make a mean friendship bracelet with Head Counselor Christine, and jump beach waves with Counselor Kelly. Yes, those were the days.
Flash forward a few decades later and here I am, National Network Manager with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation reliving the glory days of my summer recreation past every day.
Working to support and train National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) agencies to further incorporate healthy eating and physical activity into their programming has been both a privilege and an education. I feel honored to have the opportunity to support the program directors and camp counselors who mentored me so many years ago, and am constantly impressed with the industry’s universal dedication to public service and youth development.
Supporting park and recreation agencies isn’t just about helping them upgrade snack programs to include more fruits and vegetables, changing vending machines to include healthier options, and teaching staff new games to get them and kids moving more, it is about raising awareness for the importance of recreation programming and the pivotal role that recreation staff play as healthy lifestyle role models.
During a recent visit to Seat Pleasant Activity Center in Prince George’s County, Maryland, I had the opportunity to see firsthand how this particular park and recreation agency, with the support of the Alliance, was improving the health of the children it serves. The Activity Center has long been a pillar in the Seat Pleasant Community, and has helped shape multiple generations of families in the area.
I am always excited to visit Seat Pleasant Activity Center because they always strive to do more and better for their neighborhood. From the moment I walked in, I was met with a crowd of seniors dancing to show-tunes, a new mother showing off her baby to the front desk staff, teens playing basketball in the gym and a herd of youth racing to be first in line for the day’s activity.
On this visit, I saw MyPlate signs posted everywhere, water bottles strewn about in the gym instead of sugary soda and sports drinks, front desk staff who brought a salad in from home to eat on shift and youth who ran right past the vending machines towards the fruit kebobs without hesitation.
For the staff that I work with, these past few years with the Alliance wasn’t about doing more work, it was simply about being intentional about the work they were doing and being true to their park and recreation roots. As I left that day, I was reminded by staff to stop by this summer during camp to check out all their new healthy activity ideas for the participants! Rest assured, this former parks and recreation kid never turns down an opportunity for another day at camp!
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation is supporting NRPA’s Commit to Health initiative, serving as the primary technical assistance provider for local park and recreation agencies who are working to implement the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards. To date, over 890 sites are implementing the standards.
How are you creating healthy lifestyles for the children in your community? Has your agency pledged to Commit to Health? Join the conversation below or tweet us @NRPA_News with the hashtag #CommitToHealth.
Ava Young is the National Network Manager with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.