This year, we’re pretty excited to build on the successes and lessons learned during the summer of Park Champion advocacy by expanding the initiative to a year-round movement. We plan on holding at least one Park Champion event in all 50 states! That may seem like a lot of events, but it’s Park Champions like Michele Potter, Director of Parks, Recreation and Culture for the City of Gaithersburg, Maryland who give us confidence that we’re going to meet our goal.
Back in September, Michele was attending the “Park Champions: Bringing Capitol Hill to a Park Near You” session during the NRPA Annual Conference in Las Vegas, NV. As she was learning about the program and hearing Park Champions talk about the events they held over the summer, she emailed Monica Marquina, Gaithersburg’s Legislative Affairs Manager. She asked Monica to invite their members of Congress to the grand opening and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony of Constitution Gardens Park, which was to be held just three days later.
Even on such short notice, representatives from the offices of Senator Ben Cardin, Congressman John Delaney, and Congressman Chris Van Hollen, as well as several state, county, and local officials were all able to attend the event. In addition to meeting with Michele and her staff, the Congressional staff were able to participate in the ribbon cutting ceremony for Constitution Gardens Park and learn about this new all-natural play space that was designed with an emphasis on conservation and how the park incorporates literacy to teach residents the history of Gaithersburg.
With this event, Michele has developed and reinforced her connection with her Congressional offices, relationships she sees as essential, ensuring her federal elected officials and their staff will continue to see first-hand the importance of parks and recreation to her community.
As park and recreation professionals and citizen advocates, Park Champions have the unbeatable assets of parks, recreation centers, and community-focused programs and services to attract the members of Congress for a visit. Michele’s experience just further proves what we’ve known all along — members of Congress and their staff will jump at the opportunity to get out into parks for the chance to interact with their constituents. Her members of Congress clearly appreciated the opportunity — Congressman Delaney even sent her a Congressional Citation commemorating the visit. It just goes to show that if you invite your members of Congress to your community, they will come.
Do you have an exciting event planned in the coming weeks or months? Invite your member of Congress! Michele was able to get Congressional staff out to her parks with just three days’ notice, so imagine what you can get done with a few weeks or months of notice. It’s easy to get started by signing up as a Park Champion and using the Park Champion Advocacy Toolkit.
Jayni Rasmussen is NRPA’s Advocacy and Outreach Specialist