NRPA Opening General Session Featuring Glenn Harris

Tuesday, October 27  |  11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. EDT

Leadership Presenters: Michael Kelly, Chicago Park District and Kristine Stratton, NRPA
Keynote Speaker: Glen Harris, Race Forward

Michael P. Kelly

General Superintendent and Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Park District
Chair, NRPA Board of Directors

Read more details in his biography (listed under the heading "officers and executive committee").

Kristine Stratton

President and Chief Executive Officer, NRPA

Read more details in her biography (listed under the heading "officers and executive committee").

Glen Harris

President, Race Forward

Glenn Harris, a veteran advocate for racial justice, will step up to the microphone during the 2020 Opening General Session. The president of the new Race Forward and publisher of Colorlines, brings to the NRPA Virtual stage a vast historical knowledge about equity and experience working with many groups, big and small, to end institutionalized racism.

Harris serves as the president of the new Race Forward, the union of two leading racial justice nonprofit organizations — Race Forward and Center for Social Inclusion, where he served as president starting in 2014. The new Race Forward builds on the work of both organizations toward advancing racial justice.

Harris brings to the new Race Forward more than 25 years of experience working on issues of race and social justice — working with community groups, foundations and government agencies dedicated to building a more just and democratic society.

Prior to the new Race Forward and CSI, Harris worked as the manager of the City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative, whose mission is to end institutionalized racism in city government and promote multiculturalism and full participation by all residents. He has supported the start of similar initiatives in jurisdictions across the country and helped to found the Government Alliance on Race and Equity.

Harris came to city government after serving five years as development director at Western States Center, an intermediary that provides technical assistance, training, research and policy analysis in an eight-state region to grassroots organizations working to achieve social change. He also served as the interim-director at the MRG Foundation in Portland, Oregon.

Harris is currently a board member of the Philanthropic Initiative on Racial Equity, the Willamette Valley Law Project and the City Parks Alliance.

Learning Outcomes:

Learn about institutionalized racism and gain knowledge about the history of racial injustices.

Become inspired to work toward ending institutionalized racism and to implement steps that advance race and social justice.

Find ways to work with various community groups, foundations and government agencies to build a more equitable, just and democratic society.

Mental Health: From My Community to Me

Wednesday, October 28 | 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. EDT

Moderator: Dr. Philip Wu
Tyler Norris, Well Being Trust, and Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, The Trauma Stewardship Institute

Park and recreation professionals work on the frontlines ensuring the health and well-being of their communities. They work to provide safe places where individuals can find the support and resources needed to ensure not only their physical health, but also their mental health. Join this panel discussion, moderated by Dr. Philip Wu, member of the NRPA Board of Directors, as panelists Tyler Norris from Well Being Trust and Laura van Dernoot Lipsky from The Trauma Stewardship Institute discuss mental health as it relates to parks and recreation. Learn about the mental health programs and services provided by the field and the important need for park and recreation professionals to maintain their own mental health.

Dr. Philip Wu

Retired, Kaiser Permanente Northwest Region
Member, NRPA Board of Directors

Read more details in his biography (listed under the heading "directors").


Tyler Norris

Chief Executive, Well Being Trust

Tyler Norris, MDiv, is chief executive of Well Being Trust, an impact philanthropy with a mission to advance the mental, social and spiritual health of the nation. During the past three decades, Norris has shaped health and development initiatives in hundreds of communities in the United States and around the world. He has an extensive background as a social entrepreneur and trusted advisor to philanthropies, health systems, government agencies and collaborative partnerships working to improve the health of people and places. He also serves as a board member and/or advisor to Naropa University; the National Academies of Science: Child Well Being Forum; CityHealth; Enterprise Community Partners and others.

Prior to becoming the first chief executive of Well Being Trust, Norris served as vice president of Total Health at Kaiser Permanente, where he led “anchor institution” work, applying all organizational assets to benefit the economic, social and environmental contributors to health. He previously served as the founding CEO of a leading health consultancy, Community Initiatives, and as founding board chair of IP3, the social enterprise that gave birth to the Community Commons, a geographic information system data mapping and stories platform. Earlier, he was the first director of what became the Convergence Partnership; a head coach of the YMCA of the USA; and an advisor to Active Living by Design and the Public Health Institute. Norris helped open the Abraham Path through the heart of the Middle East and led the Kuhiston Foundation that helped establish the national park system in Tajikistan. He is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Executive Program, earned a Master of Divinity degree from Naropa University and has a bachelor’s degree in world political economy from Colorado College.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky

Founder and Director, The Trauma Stewardship Institute

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky is the founder and director of The Trauma Stewardship Institute and author of Trauma Stewardship and The Age of Overwhelm. Widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of trauma exposure, van Dernoot Lipsky has worked locally, nationally and internationally for more than three decades. Much of her work involves being invited to assist in the aftermath of community catastrophes — whether they are fatal storms or mass shootings. Simultaneously, she has long been active in community organizing and movements for social and environmental justice, and she has taught on issues surrounding systematic oppression, structural supremacy and liberation theory.

Van Dernoot Lipsky is on the advisory board of ZGiRLS, an organization that supports young girls in sports. She is a founding member of the International Transformational Resilience Network, which supports the development of capacity to address climate change. She also has served as an associate producer of the award-winning film, A Lot Like You, and was given a Yo! Mama award in recognition of her work as a community-activist mother.

Learning Outcomes:

Learn about the role parks and recreation plays in maintaining the health and well-being of the individuals in their communities.

Find out about mental health programs and services offered by the field of parks and recreation.

Hear about the importance of park and recreation professionals maintaining their own mental health.


Dan Heath

Thursday, October 29  |  11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. EDT

Dan Heath co-wrote four of the most-loved business books of the past decade: Made to Stick, Switch, Decisive and The Power of Moments, which explores why certain brief experiences can jolt, elevate and change us — and how we can learn to create these extraordinary moments in our life and work. All four quickly became New York Times best sellers.

Heath recently released Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen (March 2020), which explores a vital question: Why are we so often trapped in a cycle of reaction — putting out fires, responding to emergencies — when the problems we’re reacting to could have been prevented? Upstream studies leaders who have escaped this cycle and triumphed in preventing major problems: customer churn; homelessness; chronic disease; dropouts. The book reveals the approaches used by these leaders to overcome problems that were thought intractable.

Heath is a senior fellow at Duke University’s CASE center, which supports entrepreneurs who fight for social good. He is also an entrepreneur himself, having founded Thinkwell, an innovative education company that will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2017. A former case writer for Harvard Business School, Heath was named in 2013 to the Thinkers 50, a ranking of the world’s 50 most influential management thinkers, and also to Fast Company magazine’s list of the Most Creative People in Business.

Heath has delivered keynotes or workshops for teachers, police chiefs, U.S. senators, interior designers, Navy admirals, healthcare leaders, marketers, ministers and countless executive teams, across 26 countries on six continents. (He’s still waiting for that invitation from Antarctica.)

Heath has a Master of Business Administration degree from the Harvard Business School, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Plan II Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Learning Outcomes:

Learn about the reasons for becoming trapped in a cycle of reaction in response to emergencies.

Hear about leaders who have escaped the cycle of reaction and have triumphed in preventing problems.

Become inspired by learning ways to take an upstream response to solving problems.


Parks and Recreation: Agents for Climate Resilience

Thursday, October 29 |  12 p.m. – 1 p.m. EDT

Moderator: Kristin Baja, Programs Director, Climate Resilience, Urban Sustainability Directors Network
Speakers: Alyssa Cobb Konon, NYC (New York) Parks; Kelli Ondracek, Houston (Texas) Parks and Recreation Department; Guillermo (Gil) Penalosa, 8 80 Cities; Norma E. Garcia, LA County Parks and Los Angeles County Regional Parks and Open Space District, California

Park and recreation professionals and the spaces they manage are helping communities become climate-ready. Parks provide green spaces that can help reduce air pollution and protect communities from extreme weather, while recreation centers offer safe spaces to gather or to distribute resources during emergency response. Work being done to create climate-ready cities and communities around the country through parks and recreation provides the pinnacle example of upstream thinking, planning and action.

During this panel, moderator Kristin Baja, programs director for the Climate Resilience at the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, will identify and give an overview of resilience hubs in communities and discuss how parks and recreation can be critical to creating strong and resilient communities in the face of climate change. Our panel of seasoned experts — Alyssa Cobb Konon, Norma E. Garcia, Kelli Ondracek and Guillermo (Gil) Penalosa — will discuss the roles parks and recreation plays in helping communities become climate-ready.

Before this panel begins, be sure to listen to the general session presentation by Dan Heath, author of Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, as he discusses taking steps to solve problems before they begin.

Kristin Baja
Programs Director, Climate Resilience, Urban Sustainability Directors Network

Baja (‘Baja’) is USDN’s program director for climate resilience and is responsible for helping local governments identify strategic ways to advance equity-centered climate resilience planning and implementation and building their capacity to take proactive action. Baja focuses her time on supporting members and partners in working at the nexus of racial equity, resilience and mitigation while also helping to facilitate deeper relationships between local governments and stakeholders. She designs and supports projects that shift focus to more collaborative and transformational action. Prior to USDN, Baja served as the climate and resilience planner with the City of Baltimore's Office of Sustainability in Maryland, where she led the city's climate and equity work. She holds a masters of urban planning and a masters of science from the University of Michigan. In 2016, she was recognized by the Obama Administration as a Champion of Change for her work on climate and equity.

Alyssa Cobb Konon

Deputy Commissioner for the Planning and Development Division, NYC (New York) Parks

Alyssa Cobb Konon is the deputy commissioner for the Planning and Development Division at NYC Parks. She oversees the planning, parklands, revenue, marinas, operations and management planning, and audit units. Her division helps guide the development of the city’s parks to meet the recreational, social and environmental needs of New York City. In this role, she has spearheaded the creation and implementation of major initiatives, including the Community Parks Initiative, a $318 million framework for investing in under-resourced small parks; Parks Without Borders, a program that opens the boundaries of parks to be inclusive of all New Yorkers; Anchor Parks, a $150 million program for investing in large parks; and Walk to a Park, making progress to get 85 percent of New Yorkers within a walk to a park.

Cobb Konon is responsible for NYC Parks’ real estate portfolio, represents the agency in complex development projects and land-use transactions, and directs approximately 400 park concessions. She manages the audit and park inspection functions for NYC Parks, helping to inform agency best practices and service delivery. She has expanded NYC Parks’ engagement on waterfront, marinas and coastal projects, including developing its first systematic waterfront inspection and planning program, securing funding for aging waterfront parks infrastructure, and guiding its role in climate change.  

Prior to working at NYC Parks, Cobb Konon was an executive vice president at the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), where she directed the Planning, Development and Transportation Divisions.

During her tenure at NYCEDC, she successfully led a diverse set of waterfront, neighborhood development, transportation, open space and real estate projects. Her work includes the creation of the South Bronx Greenway and West Harlem Piers, unlocking the redevelopment of the Seward Park lots on the Lower East Side, facilitation of Columbia University’s Manhattanville campus expansion, sustaining and growing the East River Ferry service, initiating the city’s first wetland mitigation bank, and advancing strategies that promote economic development.

Cobb Konon received an undergraduate degree in human biology from Stanford University and a graduate degree in urban planning from Columbia University.


Kelli Ondracek

Natural Resources Manager, Houston (Texas) Parks and Recreation Department

Kelli Ondracek has more than 15 years of experience in habitat restoration, wildlife research and habitat management. She is responsible for assessing, restoring and managing natural resources within the city of Houston’s parks, including more than 16,000 acres of natural areas. Her work experience includes private environmental consulting, federal government and environmental nonprofits. Ondracek holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration from Nicholls State University and both a Master of Science in environmental science and a Master of Science in environmental management from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.


Guillermo (Gil) Penalosa, MBA, Ph.Dhc, CSP

Founder and Chair, 8 80 Cities

Guillermo Penalosa is passionate about creating vibrant and healthy cities for all people. Because of his unique blend of experience, pragmatism and passion, cities and organizations worldwide have invited him to work in more than 350 different cities in all continents.

Penalosa is the founder and chair of the internationally recognized Canadian nonprofit organization 8 80 Cities. He is also first ambassador of World Urban Parks.

Before immigrating to Canada, Penalosa was commissioner in Bogotá, Colombia, where he led the construction of more than 200 parks and development of new Ciclovia, which has turned into the world’s largest temporary park and where each Sunday, 1 of 4 citizens walk, run, bike and enjoy each other’s company. He holds an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where he recently was selected as one of the “100 Most Inspirational Alumni” in the school’s history. Penalosa received a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the Faculty of Urban Planning at the prominent University in Sweden, SLU. Last year, he was listed in Planetizen’s Top 100 Most Influential Urbanists and recently received in Australia the World Urban Parks Annual Distinguished Individual Award.


Norma E. Garcia

Director of the Department Parks and Recreation, LA County Parks and Los Angeles County Regional Parks and Open Space District, California

Norma Garcia is the first woman and first person of color to serve in this capacity since the founding of the Department in 1944.

In her role as director, Garcia is responsible for the department’s operations that include a $232 million budget, more than 2,458 employees, and asset management of 183 parks, 70,079 acres of parkland, more than 210 miles of trails with staging areas, 5 equestrians centers, 14 lakes – 3 of which are boating and swimming lakes, 475 sports amenities such as futsal, basketball, tennis, lawn bowling and multipurpose fields, 42 swimming pools, 15 wildlife sanctuaries, and 10 nature centers that serve as a refuge for more than 200 animals (such as hawks, bison, alpacas, snakes, owls, tortoise, ravens and raccoons). Garcia also directs the largest municipal golf system in the nation, consisting of 20 golf courses, in addition to the world-class Arboreta and Botanic Gardens – Descanso Gardens, Los Angeles County Arboretum, Virginia Robinson Gardens and South Coast Botanical Gardens, the Hollywood Bowl and Ford Theaters. She also will lead the department during emergencies and natural disasters, where gyms, local parks, and regional facilities become shelters for residents and livestock, providing a safety-net for communities throughout Los Angeles County.

Garcia also will serve as the director of the Los Angeles County Regional Parks and Open Space District (RPOSD) administering Measure A (Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks and Beaches Protection Measure) dedicating $90 million annually, in perpetuity, in grant programs for Los Angeles County’s local parks, beaches and open space areas.

Garcia is passionate about building thriving communities throughout the county and works tirelessly to achieve this through her active participation in many civic and professional organizations. She serves on the Board of the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials (NACPRO), Baldwin Hills Conservancy, Baldwin Hills Regional Conservation Authority (BHRCA) and the El Monte Promise Foundation. She served as a member of the Rio Hondo College Board of Trustees, the chair of El Monte City Planning Commission and as a member on the Board of the Watershed Conservation Authority (WCA), the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles River and Mountains Conservancy (RMC), the California Community Foundation’s Community Building Initiative, and on the Board of New Economics for Women.

Garcia grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, where she visited Whittier Narrows Regional Park often and grew to love and appreciate the value of parks in her life and community. She is a daughter of immigrants and the first in her family to attend college. she graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in urban planning. She and her adventurous family and husky enjoy everything about parks, bike riding, camping and tending to their vegetable garden, chickens and beehive.

Learning Outcomes:

Explore the ways that park and recreation professionals and spaces are helping communities become climate-ready.

Find out how climate-ready park planning exemplifies upstream thinking by preemptively responding to problems that can come from climate change.

Receive an overview of resilience hubs in communities and the role parks and recreation plays in creating strong and resilient communities in the face of climate change.