Parks and Recreation Stays Committed in its Support of Older Adults

By Allie Ziegler | Posted on May 24, 2024

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Park and recreation agencies serve as an accessible hub for individuals of all ages and are dedicated to addressing the diverse interests of their community members.  Within this environment is the increasing presence of older adults, an essential part of communities across the country. Despite agency challenges such as navigating budget constraints, managing facility issues, addressing the remaining impacts of COVID-19 and promoting engagement across various communities, park and recreation agencies uphold their commitment to providing meaningful support and programming for community members of all ages.

Late last year, the NRPA Research team conducted a survey asking nearly 300 park and recreation professionals to describe the programming and services they offer for older adults. The results detail both the successes and challenges agencies face in supporting this group and serve as the basis of the Supporting Older Adults Through Parks and Recreation report.

Park and recreation agencies work diligently to support their diverse communities and understand the needs of their aging population. However, certain factors hinder these agencies from enhancing the overall experience of their members. Managing multiple programs and serving a wide demographic with a limited budget poses a significant challenge. Fifty-nine percent of park and recreation agencies reported they devote one to five percent of their annual operating budgets to older adult programs and outreach. Although, one in seven agencies are able to dedicate more than 15 percent of their annual operating budgets to support and enrich older adult programming.

In the survey conducted, agencies were candid about the primary challenges they face in providing support to their older adult residents. A notable 43 percent identified that facility space storage is a pressing issue, with 31 percent highlighting the challenges related to both lack of public awareness and engagement with older adults from diverse communities. The unprecedented impact of COVID-19 further added to these challenges, with more than a quarter (27 percent) acknowledging that the lingering impact of the pandemic affected the level of participation from older adults.

It is a key value of parks and recreation to support the older adult population regardless of race, identity, ability and other backgrounds. Sixty-one percent of park and recreation professionals agree that the participants in their older adult programs reflect the race and ethnicity of their communities. While 16 percent of agencies believe more efforts can be made to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Agencies implemented various successful strategies to achieve their goals for increasing inclusivity.  This includes working with leaders from underrepresented groups, offering low/no-cost programs for low-income residents, hosting English as a second language classes, providing luncheons for the LGBTQ+ community, offering transportation for people with disabilities and more.  

The Supporting Older Adults Through Parks and Recreation reportprovides insight into the successes and challenges park and recreation agencies face in supporting their older residents. Critical areas of concern include facility space, lack of public awareness and, at times, limited engagement from diverse communities.

But, despite these challenges, park and recreation agencies stay committed to actively addressing the needs of older adults and will continue to work on fostering inclusive experiences for these vital community members.

Allie Ziegler (she/her) is a research assistant at NRPA.

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