The Summer of Park Champion Advocacy

August 1, 2015, Department, by Jayni Rasmussen

Illinois Rep. Elaine Nekritz (IL-57) throws out the first pitch at Buffalo Grove’s new baseball field at Kilmer Park.A quick scan of Houston’s Denver Harbor Community Center reveals not a single stoic face in the crowd. Smiles flash like fireworks across the room as Rep. Gene Green (TX-29), Mayor Annise Parker, Councilman Ed Gonzalez and Houston Parks and Recreation Director Joe Turner hand out boxed meals to a buzzing line of eager kids. A girl with long brown hair giggles, holding her lunch box up for the camera. A boy in a Batman shirt steals the show with a cheek-to-cheek grin, proudly munching on a ham sandwich after firmly planting himself at a table in the front that was probably meant for the adults.

It’s a scene that event attendees are not likely to forget, especially knowing that every child in that room might otherwise go hungry if it weren’t for the free, healthy meals provided as part of the summer meal program at Houston Parks and Recreation’s Denver Harbor. Back in Washington, D.C., congressional staffers on Capitol Hill are busy drafting a bill that would reauthorize and fund child nutrition programs like the Summer Food Service Program, which reimburses sponsors, including parks and recreation agencies, for meals served to food-insecure children. Sure, few politicians would say outright that providing healthy meals to hungry, low-income children is a bad idea. Still, in a political climate where programs across the board face deep funding cuts, there really is nothing like seeing kids in their own communities enjoying a meal, socializing and playing in a safe environment, to convince a member of Congress that child nutrition programs are simply not expendable. 

In NRPA’s 50th year, we’re leading the way by revamping our advocacy efforts and empowering members to be parks and recreation advocates from their home turf. Our newly enlisted Park Champions took up the task and ran with this new grassroots, show-and-tell advocacy model. From Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY-25) cruising around a Hilton-Parma, New York, park in an off-road vehicle to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) playing Jenga with the kids at the Heilman Recreation Center in Detroit, Michigan, to having staff from Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s (NY-8) office, along with Rep. Elaine Nekritz (IL-57) throw out the first pitch on Buffalo Grove, Illinois’ new baseball field, our Park Champions are getting creative with amazing, diverse events all over the country this summer. It’s a winning situation all around — park and recreation agencies get to show off their facilities and programs and members of Congress and their staff are loving the opportunity to get out from behind their desks and into parks and recreation centers to see first-hand how federal policies impact the communities they serve. 

Thanks to the scores of NRPA members who took up the challenge, the Park Champion initiative is already an undeniable success, and the year isn’t even over! There are three big pieces of parks and recreation legislation —  the Land and Water Conservation Fund or LWCF, the Transportation Bill and the Child Nutrition Act — up for reauthorization this year, and we need members like you to take action by hosting your U.S. representative and/or U.S. senators at a Park Champion event. Be a part of this exciting new initiative by heading over to to learn more, check out photos from past Park Champion events, access the Park Champion Advocacy Toolkit and sign the Park Champion pledge. Email Jayni Rasmussen, NRPA’s advocacy and outreach specialist, or call her at 703.858.4731 to get started on planning your Park Champion event.

Jayni Rasmussen is NRPA’s Advocacy and Outreach Specialist.



Park Champions of the Year


NRPA’s Public Policy team is excited to announce the creation of the Park Champion of the Year Award. This honor is given to the NRPA member who best exemplifies the qualities of being a reliable, communicative partner who understands the importance of advocating for parks and recreation, and organized or facilitated a creative, innovative event showcasing their parks and recreation agency to a member of Congress and/or their staff.

The first-ever recipients of the Park Champion of the Year Award are Adriane Johnson and Ryan Risinger, both of Buffalo Grove, Illinois. Johnson and Risinger co-organized a dedication of Kilmer Park, where staff from U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s (NY-8) office, as well as Illinois Rep. Elaine Nekritz (IL-57), threw the first pitches on a new baseball field. This wonderful, community-focused event set up the foundation of an ongoing relationship with not only Rep. Duckworth’s office, but also the rest of the Illinois congressional contingent. Johnson and Risinger were excellent, cooperative partners in helping to make the first year of the Park Champion initiative a success.


Adriane Johnson is the president of the Board of Commissioners for the Buffalo Grove Park District, and has served as a commissioner since November 2011. Johnson is the chairperson of the Personnel Committee and the board liaison for park district’s Environmental Action Committee. 

In her professional capacity, Johnson has 20-plus years of work experience as a human resources professional and owns a consulting firm aimed at that field. She is a newly appointed trustee of the Illinois Association of Park Districts Board of Trustees and an active member of the Buffalo Grove Rotary Club. 

Johnson lives in Buffalo Grove with her husband, Bruce, and daughter, Nia.


Ryan Risinger has been with the Buffalo Grove Park District since 1992, having previously held the positions of recreation supervisor, superintendent of recreation, director of recreation and facilities, and deputy director.

Risinger earned his bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation from Illinois State University and his master’s degree in public administration from Villanova University. He attended Indiana’s Executive Development program, North Carolina State’s School of Sports Management at Oglebay, Disney Institute’s Keys to Success and Customer Loyalty programs, and is a Certified Park and Recreation Executive (CPRE). Risinger is also a member of the Rotary Club of Buffalo Grove where he currently serves as secretary.

Risinger lives in Grayslake with his wife, Pari, and three children, Brittani, Charles and Courtney.