North Port Parks and Recreation 5K Rises Up to Improve Accessibility and Equity

August 18, 2022, Department, by Laura Ansel, MAC

sept 22 park bench north port parks and recreation 5k 410

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The annual North Port (Florida) Rockin’ Run & Roll 5K and Kids Fun Run were started in 2019 with the goal of welcoming and connecting people of all ages and abilities to improve their overall health and wellness. Held annually in January, the Rockin’ Run & Roll 5K is promoted to the community as an opportunity to start the new year right and is strategically located in Butler Park. Not only is this area of town a hub of health and wellness facilities, but also it is adjacent to a local middle school and high school, and provides a flat, fast and accessible course for participants.

Proceeds from the 5K go toward the city’s Youth Scholarship Program. The scholarships are just one of the initiatives in our quest to ensure all children have opportunities to engage in programs, regardless of financial barriers. To further expand accessibility and avoid financial barriers to recreation participation, the race fees for North Port employees are covered by the city’s wellness committee.

“Over the past few years, our department has been actively expanding our programming and events in an effort to dismantle barriers to equity in our community,” says Sandy Pfundheller, parks and recreation director. “We recognize the importance of building healthy and inclusive communities and realized as we went through the CAPRA [Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies] accreditation process that there was more we could do to ensure all people have access to the benefits of local parks and recreation.”

Participants of all ages and abilities in the annual 5K are invited to move through the course by foot, wheelchair or stroller — regardless of whether entrants cross the finish line of their own volition or under another’s power. For those who prefer completing the race on their own terms, North Port Parks and Recreation also offers the option to compete virtually.

This featured photo, taken during the Rockin’ Run & Roll 5K this past March, embodies the intent and spirit of this event, as well as the vision for NRPA’s Equity pillar.

In addition to the annual 5K, North Port Parks and Recreation has worked hard over the past few years to expand equitable access at all its events. To accomplish this, the staff forged new partnerships with local nonprofits that have expertise in this area. These community partners have sponsored sensory-friendly or adapted event options for attendees at several events, including the Movie on the Green series, as well as the large-scale egg hunts, Trick or Treat, and the Sweetheart Ball.

While the work isn’t finished in creating a future where the full power of parks and recreation is widely recognized for creating a better life for everyone, this photo captures the essence of that race. Our participant, with her humble but determined expression, fully embodies how our field “rises up” for our communities and how, in return, our communities rise for one another.

Laura Ansel, MAC, Marketing and Engagement Coordinator, City of North Port