Humbly, when approached to be the subject of this month’s Member Spotlight, Teresa Kuchinsky-Trejo, CPRP, told Parks & Recreation, “I do not know if I am worthy of a spotlight — I am a recreation supervisor who has been in and out of the business since 1984…” This sort of careful self-deprecation is common among park and recreation professionals, who, day in, day out, go about the business of supporting their communities and providing essential services for their well-being. This, however, is some of the most important work taking place in any locale, and it’s clear, despite her humility, that Kuchinsky-Trejo’s commitment to the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department has paid dividends for the patrons and professionals with whom she works.
Parks & Recreation magazine: First, give us a bit of background.
Teresa Kuchinsky-Trejo: I live in Tracy, California, but work in San Francisco, about 67 miles west…don’t ask me about the commute. I received a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from the University of San Francisco and attended graduate school at Cal State Hayward (East Bay) taking classes in kinesiology, corporate recreation, and public and school administration.
I started in recreation, like a lot of us, in aquatics — lifeguarding, swimming lessons and competitive swim. While attending graduate classes, I worked for HARD (Hayward Area Recreational District) as a swim teacher and a lifeguard, and at Cal State Hayward, as an assistant swim coach, I was involved in catering, special events and fitness instruction, but I honestly didn’t realize I worked in the “recreation” field. While in San Francisco, some area natives told me about a recreation director’s test. I took it and passed! I feel like I only knew about sports and aquatics, not art, dance, drama, tot or senior programming…You could say I fell into the field — who knew there was a job where you got paid to play? I love it.
P&R: What’s one of your favorite aspects of your agency?
Kuchinsky-Trejo: Only one?! I love San Francisco Rec and Park — the department has embraced the changes in the population of the city. It provides opportunities for all ages that inspire, connects them with others and allows them to play. I love that you can find these programs throughout the entire city and that we focus on all ages from 1 to 100-plus.
P&R: What are some of your job’s greatest challenges?
Kuchinsky-Trejo: A great challenge is retaining and finding staff. Because of changing programming needs and economic challenges, there isn’t a lot of full-time work. We have people working [for our agency] who have diverse backgrounds and all ages and experiences — many teachers, musicians and artists who are searching for full-time employment, and if they find it they are gone. I also find it challenging that people don’t realize that the recreation field covers so many areas, from government to programming and events, that they can make a career out of it.
P&R: What have been some of your greatest successes?
Kuchinsky-Trejo: It may sound silly, but retaining my staff, and also giving them opportunities to learn and obtain experience in many areas. I am proud of the staff who have worked with me, or students I have mentored who have found employment with other recreation departments, the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and especially teaching. I love when the staff gets my vision, then turns it into theirs, and I “get” it. I love to see them playing and laughing with the kids and giving the kids adventures and opportunities to try something new. This is especially apparent when we run our summer Tot Camps, when staff has more time with the kids.
P&R: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the park and recreation field?
Kuchinsky-Trejo: Try everything. You may discover an area you didn’t know you were interested in. Take some child development classes — it’ll teach you how to work with others and look at your programming and participants with better understanding. Do something uncomfortable — it allows you to grow. Be a jack of all trades — recreation is all about adapting and having the ability to adjust or fill in anywhere at any time. Work/intern/volunteer in more than one town or city, or try other divisions of recreation. Join NRPA and get your CPRP. Love what you do — get paid to play!
— Samantha Bartram, Executive Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine