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During my seven years of service on the NRPA Board of Directors, I’ve witnessed the growth of the park and recreation field through the diligence, care and hard work of its professionals. As I step into my new role as chair and build on the work of my predecessors, I am eager to help our field develop innovative, collaborative solutions to pressing issues, and adapt to meet the ever-evolving needs of our communities.
Within the upcoming NRPA Strategic Plan, we will lay the groundwork to advance parks and recreation as a solution to the challenges of today, from the impacts of climate change to social inequities. During the 2023 NRPA Annual Conference this past October, leaders, board members and NRPA Business Council members met to discuss our vision and the steps we’re taking to move this exciting plan forward. We are centering NRPA’s Three Pillars — health and wellness, equity, and conservation — in our planning, as well as on the unique potential that our work has to build just, inclusive and resilient communities.
Park and recreation professionals steward the places where people go to connect with one another and embrace the benefits of time spent in nature. We understand the strong connection between parks and recreation and community well-being, and studies continue to affirm this relationship. A 2023 study conducted in Los Angeles County links increased amounts of green space and tree canopy to longer life expectancies for community members, while also bringing attention to the inequitable distribution of these resources and the need to add park space to under-resourced areas. Nationwide, park and recreation professionals are prioritizing equity to ensure all people can benefit from the power of parks and recreation.
Park and recreation agencies must build coalitions and collaborate with all community stakeholders to achieve this work. NRPA Senior Program Manager Maureen Neumann reminds us that food banks make valuable partners as they provide emergency food access to our community members year-round, which is discussed in the column, “Partnering With Food Banks to Support Nutrition Security,” on page 24. Consider what partnerships your organization can cultivate to increase its positive impact and support health and wellness. Through collaboration and teamwork, park and recreation agencies can better connect community members with vital services, improve community health and wellness, and increase resilience and climate-readiness as we pursue an equitable future for all.
In fact, park and recreation professionals have a unique responsibility to support our most disadvantaged community members. Our 2023 Engagement With Parks Report indicated that 88 percent of U.S. adults agree that it is vital for their local park and recreation agencies to engage with every member of their communities to ensure offerings meet their needs. We can do so by reaching out to community members who may not feel welcome and adjusting our programs and services to holistically meet the needs of our communities. By prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusivity in each aspect of our work — from our programming to planning, operations, marketing, training and more — we can achieve success.
Jesús Aguirre is Chair of the NRPA Board of Directors.