Parks are the heartbeats of our communities, offering spaces for joy, connection and well-being. The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) leads the charge in advocating for these vital spaces through its Park Champions Initiative. This unique program recognizes that advocacy takes many forms, each championing the cause of parks in unique ways. Park Champions emerge as dedicated park and recreation professionals equipped with the skills and knowledge to involve their communities in the movement.
The Park Champions Initiative is a rallying call to individuals and communities to stand up for their local parks, from passionate community leaders to environmentally conscious citizens. Park Champions come in various forms, united by a shared commitment to enhancing the quality of life through vibrant and accessible parks.
Recognizing parks not only as recreational spaces but also as critical hubs to address broader community challenges, a recent Park Champions cohort focused on the role of park and recreation agencies in addressing food insecurity and, by extension, community health. As part of this initiative, they incorporated food access initiatives – such as community gardens, farmers' markets and food distribution programs – into their parks which allowed them to tackle issues of food insecurity while fostering a sense of community. By integrating food access into the fabric of parks, NRPA aims to address social and health disparities, creating inclusive and resilient communities.
Throughout the cohort, professionals focused on a different topic each week to build their skills as advocates. Over an eight-week period, participants built their capacity in:
- Community Power Mapping
- Layering Federal Nutrition Programs
- Coalition Building
- Engaging Adult Learners
- Creating Your Own PCI Training
NRPA's Park Champions Initiative celebrates the diverse roles played by park and recreation professionals in advocating for parks, empowering these individuals to promote equitable access with local, state, and federal policymakers. From participating in public meetings to utilizing social media platforms, this initiative encourages individuals to find their unique paths in contributing to the cause, whether through community events, policy discussions, or coalition building. Whatever path they take, the expertise and dedication of these professionals will propel us toward a future where every community benefits from access to vibrant, inclusive, and well-loved parks.
Dan McCarthy (he/him) is NRPA’s senior manager of advocacy.