Park Champions: Bringing Capitol Hill to a Park Near You

March 1, 2015, Department, by Jayni Rasmussen

By serving as Park Champions, NRPA members will be year-round ambassadors of their agencies, building strong, lasting relationships with their elected officials.For years, NRPA’s Legislative Forum brought park and recreation professionals from across the country to Washington, D.C., where they delivered a powerful message to Capitol Hill: Parks and recreation matters. However, the dynamic of Capitol Hill has undeniably changed, and so has the way Congress does business. The concept of the Legislative Forum simply doesn’t fit into the new order. The importance of parks and recreation lies in the differences made in the communities we serve, and the essence of that contribution cannot truly be encapsulated and presented during a few days just once a year. So, we’re excited to announce that NRPA is focusing its efforts on empowering park and recreation professionals to make change happen from their home turf. By serving as Park Champions, NRPA members will be year-round ambassadors of their agencies, building strong, lasting relationships with their elected officials. 

Throughout 2015, NRPA will be hosting free monthly webinars to train park and recreation officials and citizen advocates on how to be effective Park Champions. Participants will learn how to engage their elected officials through letters, calls and meetings with clear and compelling messaging. To kick off Park and Recreation Month this July, Park Champions across the country will invite their senators or representatives and/or their staff to take part in events designed to highlight their respective agencies. From seeing first-hand a child enjoying a healthy meal when they otherwise might have gone hungry, to actually walking on a recreational path that has made all the difference in providing families access to their community park, these events will leave a lasting impression upon which an ongoing dialogue can be built. 

Coincidentally, NRPA’s 50th anniversary is also an absolutely critical year for park and recreation legislation. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act and the Child Nutrition Act are all set to expire this year. These laws provide essential funding for community park and recreation projects all over the country — and chances are, your park and recreation agency or community has benefited from one of these laws. So, in addition to the monthly Park Champion training webinars, NRPA will host issue-specific webinars to educate Park Champions on these important pieces of legislation and how they may impact community park and recreation programs and facilities. 

To make this initiative a success, we need your help. NRPA is committed to supporting and educating its members to be effective park and recreation advocates, but first, we need you to step up as a Park Champion. Your voice will make all the difference in ensuring that Congress continues to recognize the importance of parks and recreation. Plus, there are plenty of benefits to being a Park Champion. In addition to highlighting your park and recreation department, you will build relationships with your elected officials, learn valuable advocacy and event-planning skills, receive recognition at NRPA’s Annual Conference and more. So, what are you waiting for? Here’s how you can become a Park Champion:

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Well, it may be cliché, but it has never been truer than right now, in a year when there is so much on the line for our field. With this initiative, you have the opportunity to be the voice for your agency and community, and we’re here to support you. So, become a Park Champion and bring Capitol Hill to a park near you!

Jayni Rasmussen is NRPA’s Advocacy and Outreach Specialist.