It really is true that everyone deserves a park. However, the reality is that not everyone lives in an area that has quality, safe parks or recreation programs. As the assistant director of evaluation and partnership development for the Recreation and Park Commission for East Baton Rouge (BREC), in the East Baton Rouge Parish in Louisiana, one of Diane Drake’s many responsibilities is to seek financial resources through grants and partnerships to provide quality recreation opportunities for underserved residents.
Parks & Recreation magazine recently caught up with Drake to learn more about her role in making sure everyone has access to quality recreation.
Parks & Recreation: What is something your organization is doing that is near and dear to your heart?
Diane Drake: A program that we’re proud of is ‘BREC on the Geaux,’ which is a mobile program that we take to schools, churches and other areas in the community. We provide physical activities for the kids and the adults, and we serve thousands of citizens of this and surrounding parishes. What’s so great is that we go into places where people don’t have access to parks or quality playgrounds. It’s exciting to see these people be able to get out there and participate in quality programs, rather than being out on unsafe playgrounds. It’s such a unique program, and over the past five years, it’s still the top request in our division.
P&R: Why do you think that it’s so essential to provide access to quality recreation programs for members of these underserved communities?
Drake: BREC was established to provide quality, affordable programs to all members of the parish. Most of the communities we do outreach in are areas where there is a lot of crime, where parents work late hours, and these kids are not exposed to the programs that are offered in the stronger economic communities. We’re bringing these opportunities to people that may not normally get them. With programs like BREC on the Geaux, we can serve kids in the community even while their parents are at work, and it gives them quality program opportunities in a safe environment. We know that this is needed because the kids are out there waiting for us whenever we come around. They always keep coming back, so we know it’s necessary for them. We take kids out of the environment that they’re so accustomed to and expose them to other areas. We take them on field trips to the aquarium, the IMAX theatre, museums — things they may not usually do.
P&R: What’s the most rewarding thing about your role and all the great things your organization is doing?
Drake: It’s to be able to look back and see some of the projects we’ve done and to see the participants and where they have gone with their lives. Some of them are going off to college, many of them even come back just to say, “Thank you for helping me get through.” That’s the most rewarding for me because we’ve done something to give them a positive outlook instead of the negative outlook that they may have had. It just makes me feel good, especially if I go in the grocery store and someone recognizes me and says, “You’re the BREC on the Geaux lady!” It feels great to know I’m doing something positive. People are always asking, “When are you coming by again?” It’s really rewarding to see the impact of these programs and to see them continuing. It tells us we’re doing something right when the kids don’t want to go home because they love our programs so much. Parents tell us that on a school day they have to wake their kids up, but on a day that they’re participating in one of our programs, the kids are waiting on their parents to wake up!
—Cort Jones, Associate Editor for Parks & Recreation magazine