Member Spotlight: Sandra MacDiarmid

June 1, 2015, Department, by Catrina Belt

Sandra MacDiarmid began her career in park and recreation as many do — as a nature and park enthusiast. The Illinois native grew up in her local park system and ultimately began her professional career as a nature, wildlife and portrait artist. After relocating to Jackson, Tennessee, almost 30 years ago, MacDiarmid dove into the world of park and recreation after seeking a position as an instructor for children’s and adult art classes in the City of Jackson Park and Recreation Department (JPRD). Over the years, her role has evolved into a number of positions including contract instructor, summer camp arts and crafts director, special events coordinator, set and costume designer for JPRD’s theater productions, program administrator, community education director and even director of the Nature Park and Raptor Sanctuary. Today, MacDiarmid is the superintendent of recreation for the city of Jackson where she is a champion for health and wellness in her community. We spoke with MacDiarmid about her role as superintendent and enjoyed a deeper look at one of Jackson’s most successful wellness programs — the JumpStart Jackson initiative.

Parks & Recreation magazine: Give us some detail about your role as JRPD superintendent 

Sandra MacDiarmid: As superintendent, my official duties are mainly administrative and supervisory, but I still manage to keep an active hand in my first love: programming and working with children. On any given day, you may find me at a city council meeting or speaking at a Kiwanis luncheon in the morning, and then out at my Nature Park, trimming eagle talons or doing after-school nature programs. I’ve learned to keep the trunk of my car fully stocked with a selection of what I call my “grown-up” clothes and my “play clothes” for days when I’m playing multiple roles.

P&R: When did the JumpStart Jackson initiative begin and what sort of community response have you seen to date?

MacDiarmid: The JumpStart Jackson initiative began in 2007 in response to a City Council directive to create a taskforce addressing the burgeoning childhood obesity problem in Jackson, and Tennessee as a whole.  At first, we anticipated negative push-back from the community — or at least antipathy with the community facing many more immediate, serious issues of crime, poverty and unemployment. We kicked off the initiative with a community-wide Wellness Walk and were amazed that more than 1,000 people and school children came out to march for health and wellness. Our annual walks have continued to grow to where we now have more than 2,000 participating.

We just recently received news from the 2014 Gallup National Obesity Report that the obesity rate is declining, and that we are the only state with such a significant decline, so it’s good to know our efforts are paying off.

P&R: How did you get such robust community support behind JumpStart Jackson, from both the municipal end and businesses like farm markets?

MacDiarmid: We are extremely fortunate here in Jackson that Mayor Jerry Gist is fully supportive and is our driving force behind the community health and wellness initiative. Before becoming mayor, Gist served for many years as [JRPD] executive director, and past president of the Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association, so he is deeply committed to NRPA’s Three Pillars of Conservation, Health and Wellness, and Social Equity for the improvement of our city. We are also fortunate in that our hugely successful farmer’s market is owned and operated by JRPD.

P&R: What advice would you offer to agencies that may wish to implement a health and wellness initiative like JumpStart Jackson?

MacDiarmid: Community partnerships are key. When we first began our JumpStart Jackson community health and wellness initiative, we found many groups and agencies concerned with improving health and wellness opportunities in our community, but everyone was working within their own small “silos.” JumpStart Jackson provided a coming-together and common ground for all to achieve more together. Two of our most critical early partnerships were with the local school system’s Coordinated School Health Department and with the local Chamber of Commerce. The schools were able to reach the children and parents of our city; and the chamber realized the importance of a healthy, wellness-motivated city with resultant lower healthcare costs [that helped attract] new businesses and industries to Jackson.

Catrina Belt is an Editorial Intern for Parks & Recreation magazine.