A Park Champions Smackdown

November 1, 2017, Department, by Jayni Rasmussen and Chelsea Hodgkins

2017 November Advocacy A Park Champions Smackdown 410

Park Champions — NRPA members advocating for the future of parks and rec by inviting their members of Congress to events, park dedications, program kickoffs and more — are going to the mats. NRPA members have hosted more than 50 Park Champion events this year, showing members of Congress firsthand the importance of federal investment in local parks and recreation.

Every year, we recognize an incredible Park Champion with the Park Champion of the Year award. In case you missed it, Som Subedi, of Portland Parks & Recreation, claimed his custom Park Champion WWE-style championship belt in New Orleans. It was, if we do say so ourselves, awesome

We featured Som’s winning Park Champion event in last month’s issue, so this month, we’re highlighting the other amazing finalists who tapped into the Park Champion initiative to invite their members of Congress to an event highlighting their parks and programs.

Mount Airy Parks and Recreation: Hero Day with Congresswoman Virginia Foxx

On August 3, finalists Director Catrina Alexander and Assistant Director Darren Lewis of Mount Airy Parks and Recreation in North Carolina invited Congresswoman Virginia Foxx to Hero Day at their summer camp. Hero Day campers participated in fun, educational activities led by staff from the local police, fire and recycling departments.

After observing the Hero Day activities, Congresswoman Foxx handed out free lunches to the children through the USDA Summer Food Service program. It’s critical that Congresswoman Foxx, who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce — which handles USDA nutrition programs — see how park and recreation agencies like Mt. Airy are participating in the program.

“Following the event, Congresswoman Foxx, the city manager, the mayor and the board members expressed how the event helped them to understand the importance of recreation and community partnerships. Furthermore, it confirmed their commitment to healthy youth initiatives. “It was a huge win,” say Alexander and Lewis.

The Mustang Parks Foundation: Brittany’s Play Adventure Opening with Senator James Lankford

Aware of the need for an accessible playground in her community, finalist Lynly Grider, executive director of the Mustang Parks Foundation, spent two years collaborating with Mustang Parks and Recreation, elected officials and community groups to design, fund and build Brittany’s Play Adventure, Mustang, Oklahoma’s first all-inclusive park.

Through the Park Champion initiative and by leveraging relationships, Lynly, more than 300 community members, U.S. Senator James Lankford and state and local officials celebrated the opening of Brittany’s Play Adventure on June 3. The opening, which gave some families the opportunity to play at a park for the very first time, showed Senator Lankford the importance of parks and recreation in building happier, healthier communities for everyone.

East Goshen Parks and Recreation Department: East and West Goshen Bicentennial with Congressman Ryan Costello

On June 3, East Goshen Township Parks and Recreation in Pennsylvania brought history to life for 3,500 residents and elected officials, including Congressman Ryan Costello, to celebrate the bicentennial of the split between the East and West Goshen Townships. Parks and Recreation Director and finalist Jason Lang coordinated with local organizations to create a fun, historically accurate performance of the split.

“The Park Champion initiative means a lot to our department and our community,” says Lang. “Every park and recreation agency should have strong relationships with its community and elected officials — they play a huge part in securing funding for current and future initiatives. It has helped us secure more than $4.1 million in grants to maintain and build trails, playgrounds and park structures.”

Kansas City Parks and Recreation: Black/Brown Celebration with Congressman Emanuel Cleaver

On July 3, finalists Director Mark McHenry and Special Projects Manager Terrence Williams of Kansas City Parks and Recreation hosted Congressman Emanuel Cleaver at the Black/Brown Celebration, a community event celebrating diversity. Attended by more than 4,000 community members, the event featured a concert headlined by performer Sheila E. and a fireworks show.

The celebration was co-sponsored by the Black/Brown Coalition and Wells Fargo. At the event, Wells Fargo announced large financial investments to increase the number of African-American and Latino homeowners and promote financial counseling and education. By participating in the event, Congressman Cleaver saw the important role parks and recreation plays in creating a brighter, more equitable future.

You Just Made the List

Are you ready to jump into the ring to be the next Park Champion of the Year? This year at Conference, we signed up more than 300 new Park Champions! If you missed the steamboat on signing up in New Orleans, don’t worry. It’s easy to sign up. If you have any questions, email Jayni Rasmussen or call 703-858-4731.

Jayni Rasmussen is NRPA’s Advocacy and Outreach Manager. Chelsea Hodgkins is NRPA’s Government Affairs Intern.