If ever you need a guide to park and recreation opportunities in the West Allis/West Milwaukee area of Wisconsin, look no further than Shelly Strasser. The recreation and community services program director for the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District grew up in the neighborhood she now oversees and began her park and recreation career as a locker room attendant for the West Allis-West Milwaukee Recreation and Community Services Department’s aquatics programs. She stuck with the department through high school and continued to work as a youth sport official, after-school program supervisor, summer playground instructor and supervisor, and early childhood instructor through college. It should come as no surprise that her educational track at the University of Wisconsin followed a similar trajectory. We caught up with this passionate professional to learn more about the partnership between West Allis-West Milwaukee’s schools and parks, and how that arrangement affects her community.
Parks & Recreation magazine: West Allis-West Milwaukee Recreation Department has a joint-use arrangement with the local school district — can you elaborate on that?
Shelly Strasser: We are a department that functions within the school district under the auspices and guidance of the school superintendent and board of education. This started in 1934 when the superintendent at the time recognized and acknowledged the importance of organized recreation in the community and asked the school board to create a recreation department. Currently, we offer more than 1,100 different program offerings throughout the year for ages nine months to our senior residents. Additionally, our department is responsible for and oversees the scheduling of all school facilities and district properties for all activities that occur beyond the regular school day.
Our department is also responsible for the maintenance and preparation of all outdoor athletic facilities. The majority of our programs take place within school buildings and on or in school district property, but we also utilize two city parks for programming.
P&R: Do you feel this arrangement is beneficial?
Strasser: This is definitely beneficial for our agency and our community. Our department is the only public source of recreation programs. We do not have any municipal-based recreation programs or recreational services, with the exception of the West Allis Senior Center and the parks. There are six neighborhood parks and four mini-parks in West Allis that are owned by the city of West Allis. Our department partners with the city to provide the majority of recreational programming that takes place in the parks and the program staffing for supervision and implementation of the activities and events.
A school district-based recreation department allows for full access to all school district facilities without any related rental or subsidized usage fees. This provides us the opportunity to hold programs in optimal spaces and keep programming costs at an affordable rate. Another benefit is that we have direct marketing access by being able to distribute promotional materials through our schools.
The most significant impact, though, is the relationships we are able to build with students, parents and school staff.
P&R: What advice do you have for other park and rec professionals?
Strasser: I would challenge them to never let go of the passion, commitment, dedication to serve, energy and excitement that drew them to the profession in the first place. I would recommend they take advantage of all the learning and professional growth opportunities that exist out there for our profession and to lean on other professionals and the national and state associations for inspiration and support. I would encourage them to respect the traditions of their communities but to also embrace the possibilities of what the future brings and to stay relevant, to be leaders beyond their department in their communities and to listen and look for every opportunity they can to make their departments something that their community and its members cannot live without.
Samantha Bartram is the Associate Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine.