We See You

June 5, 2018, Department, by Leon T. Andrews, Jr.

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It’s officially summer, a truly busy time for park and recreation agencies, with numerous summer camps and other out-of-school-time activities. It’s also the time when many agencies see an influx of high school and college students, who staff many of these programs.

The 2017–2018 school year has been very stressful, to say the least, for most of these students. In addition to the academic rigors, and for many high school seniors the added stress of applying to colleges, they’ve been anxious about their safety at school. Imagine what it must feel like to wake up each day wondering if your school will be the next one to experience a mass shooting? According to Everytown for Gun Safety, within the first 45 days of 2018, there were 17 school shootings — more than double the number that occurred last year in the same span of time. And, since 2013, there have been 300 school shootings — an average of about one a week.

The African Zulu word “Sawubona” is often translated as simply “hello,” but it means more than that. It means “I see you,” or, as Bridget Edwards, a South African author and speaker, so beautifully translates it: “I see myself, in your eyes.” Quite often, the staffers working our summer programs go “unseen.” As long as they show up and do what’s asked of them or, on the flip side, if they do an outstanding job, they may never draw attention to themselves. Given the events of the past year, I believe we need to let them know and feel that we really see them. Consider celebrating cultural diversity or once a day/week create a Sawubona moment or acknowledgement for staff to share with one another.

Many organizations, including park agencies, invest in the health and well-being of their workers, going so far as to provide access to mental health resources. During the school year, regular counselors and grief counseling are available to students, but what about during the summer? Since health and wellness is a major component of what we do, and one of our Pillars, are we giving enough attention to this segment of our seasonal workforce? Are we providing them not only with a job, but also with a bit of respite from the stress brought on by the previous school year?

As the summer winds down, these staffers may experience some trepidation around returning to the classroom or setting off from home for the first time to begin their college life. At least for the moment in time they’re with us, let’s work to assure them they have been seen and understood — or Ngikhona, the Zulu response to the Sawubona greeting, which simply translated means “I am here,” but really means so much more.

Leon T. Andrews, Jr., is the Chair of the  NRPA Board of Directors