Each year, NRPA recognizes Park Champion initiative participants that have hosted their members of Congress or staff at an event at their agency with the Park Champion of the Year Award. The recipient of this award, chosen by the NRPA Public Policy Committee, is recognized at NRPA’s Annual Conference and receives roundtrip lodging and airfare for two in their agency to travel to Washington, D.C., to advocate for parks and recreation on Capitol Hill. Finalists for the Park Champion of the Year Award are highlighted in NRPA’s Parks & Recreation Magazine and the OpenSpace Blog.
Director Catrina Alexander and Assistant Director Darren Lewis of the Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Department, finalists for the 2017 Park Champion of the Year Award, are building a citywide culture of health, and they’re highlighting their work to their elected officials. On August 3, 2017, Alexander and Lewis invited the new chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), for Hero Day in the local Riverside Park. At Hero Day, approximately 250 summer camp participants and community members of all ages “got their play on” at fitness stations featuring agility drills, ladder walks and Zumba. Participants then got to interact with the city’s heroes. Police officers, firefighters and public safety officials discussed bicycling safety and the importance of making healthy choices when it comes to drug and alcohol use, horticulturalists and arborists taught participants how to grow their own food, and city health and hygiene workers instructed residents on proper recycling.
After observing the Hero Day activities, Chairwoman Foxx helped hand out the free lunches available to the campers. She remarked on the value of children having access to healthy meals and snacks, as well as enrichment activities that get them outside and active over the summer months. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce handles the USDA summer meal and snack program in Congress, so it was critical for the chairwoman to see firsthand how park and recreation agencies like Mt. Airy are participating in the program.
Hero Day taught Mt. Airy community members the skills they need to create healthy lifestyles and demonstrated to Foxx, as well as City Manager Barbara Jones, Mayor David Rowe and numerous board members, the value of parks and recreation in improving food security, combating chronic disease and encouraging healthy lifestyle choices in Mt. Airy.
“We included a huge education component for the elected officials and participants as part of Hero Day,” said Alexander. “It was critical in helping everyone understand the importance and impact of the work we are doing through the Commit to Health initiative.”
Mt. Airy, home to just over 10,000 residents, is located in Surry County, North Carolina, where 25.3 percent of children experience food insecurity (higher than 24.6 percent of the state as a whole). The rate of physically inactive adults is higher than that of the state — slightly more than half of residents have access to exercise opportunities and one of the three biggest community health issues is obesity, as found in the 2016 Surry County State of the County Health Report. By inviting elected officials from all levels of government to experience Hero Day, Mt. Airy Parks and Recreation clearly demonstrated how they are addressing these issues head-on through their summer camp and other initiatives.
Funding for the free lunches at camp was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to Mount Airy City Schools, which partners with Mt. Airy Parks and Recreation to provide 700 meals per day throughout the summer camp program. The meals distributed at Hero Day and throughout the summer months are distributed daily through a mobile delivery service. This service, coordinated by Mount Airy Parks and Recreation, the Mount Airy Police Department and area churches and corporations, such as Lowe’s Home Improvements, prepare and deliver lunches six days a week through on-site feeding programs, using a mobile van purchased with a grant from NRPA and the Walmart Foundation. Without these efforts, these children might not otherwise get a healthy meal, or perhaps any meal at all, on those days.
According to Alexander and Lewis, “Following the event, the city manager, the mayor, Congresswoman Foxx and the board members expressed how the event helped them to understand the importance of recreation and community partnerships. Furthermore, it confirmed their commitment to healthy youth initiatives. It was a huge win.”
Congratulations to Park Champions Catrina and Darren!
Are you the next Park Champion of the Year? Learn more and join the Park Champion initiative.
Jayni Rasmussen is NRPA’s former Advocacy and Outreach Manager. Chelsea Hodgkins is NRPA’s former Government Affairs Intern.