Sharing Our Message

August 1, 2014, Department, by Robert F. Ashcraft, Ph.D.

Robert F. Ashcraft, Ph.D., NRPA’s Chair of the Board of DirectorsI’m not sure when T-shirts joined automobile bumper stickers as a means by which individuals choose to share their feelings, beliefs and expressions. One T-shirt I see frequently, worn by a walker who traverses a well-used pathway around my neighborhood park, gives me pause every single time. It reads:

Think Outside

No Box Required

Every time I see the shirt, my reaction is the same. First I chuckle and then I nod with acknowledgement. The message validates what science tells us to be true. As children and adults engage in the outdoors, they play, grow, learn, develop and think in ways not otherwise possible. NRPA’s pillars of conservation, health and wellness, and social equity help frame our association’s efforts to ensure that the great outdoors are within reach of all citizens. After all, it is our 40,000 NRPA members who are the professionals and citizens who advance the park and recreation field by providing the places, spaces and activities that make “outside” possible, not for some, but for all. 

The privilege I feel in serving as your national board chair is always affirmed when I see the impact being made every day by our members who serve so ably across the nation. Such is the case when considering the intersection of NRPA’s mission and our commitment to assure that all citizens have opportunities to engage in the outdoors. 

Evidence of our impact occurred this July in celebrating Park and Recreation Month as data was released on the progress being made to get kids into the outdoors. With NRPA’s active support of the 10 Million Kids Outdoors initiative, led by the National Wildlife Foundation, the impressive results to date show that 650 park and recreation agencies have committed to the initiative and that 5.5 million kids have been actively engaged in spending time participating in outdoor nature-based programs. Wow! What your national board, staff and our network of NRPA members know to be true is that our mission is often met when we collaborate with kindred organizations in ways that affirm our values and assure impact for the communities we serve. I have no doubt that we will soon report we have reached our collective goal of engaging 10 million kids in the outdoors.

We learned through another collaboration, the NRPA and American Planning Association roundtable discussion on the role of parks in shaping cities (detailed in the June issue of Parks & Recreation), that the value of parks as places for recreation, to preserve open space and as social gatherings remain valid. But we also learned that real power is how parks greatly influence overall quality of life, economic development, health and other aspects of community life not always directly attributed to our field. The need for a new narrative is clear. To punctuate this new narrative, I can think of no better way to assert the power of parks and recreation than to affirm, advance and celebrate our association’s work regarding engagement in the outdoors. To this end, let me offer a new T-shirt suggestion:

Think NRPA

Out Is In

Robert F. Ashcraft, Ph.D., is executive director of Arizona State University’s (ASU) Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, associate professor at ASU’s School of Community Resources and Development, and chair of NRPA’s Board of Directors.