Our Why

December 22, 2022, Department, by Kristine Stratton

Kristine Stratton 410

For an enhanced digital experience, read this story in the ezine.

The content of this month’s issue is all about the critical importance of parks and recreation being prepared in myriad ways — prepared for the next pandemic, prepared to fully step into our role as drivers of healthier communities, and prepared for the trends that will shape how we work, learn and change. Helping this field prepare and face these opportunities with strength, wisdom and skill is why we exist.

I recently had the honor of speaking at the World Urban Parks Congress alongside colleagues from sister organizations in Spain, Mexico and the Netherlands on why organizations like NRPA are so critically important. It was a great platform to share the history of our organization and movement, but it also was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our origin story and our purpose.

It might surprise some to know that our story began in 1898 in the fight to create safe places for kids to play and in support of the idea that kids should have the chance to be just that — kids — and not just another source of labor. In 1926, we officially became incorporated as the Playground and Recreation Association of America. This was in the midst of a national task force on outdoor recreation sponsored by President Calvin Coolidge. The findings in 1928 were extensive, but two stand out and have indelibly shaped our vision and mission. First was that providing spaces for people to recreate is a community duty, one that requires local governments to own and lead. Second was that the planning, management and activation of these spaces require a bona fide professional — the park and recreation professional.

Fast forward to 1965, when we combined with five associations focused on park executives, state parks, zoos and aquariums, and recreation and cemented our mission to advance parks, recreation and environmental conservation efforts that enhance the quality of life for all people.We Are Parks and Recreation Graphic

This strategic mission and focus are alive and well today — by investing in and championing the park and recreation profession, we build strong, healthy and resilient communities that enhance the quality of life for all people.

We have come a long way since 1898, 1926 and 1965, but one thing hasn’t changed: We see a future that is better than our present, and we work relentlessly to realize it. What makes parks and recreation so powerful is its unique ability to solve our communities’ toughest problems. Parks and recreation has the power and potential to tackle the impacts of climate change, reverse childhood obesity, combat loneliness and isolation, and create stronger and more equitable communities where all experience the benefits of parks and recreation.

By investing in NRPA and our mission, we are building the momentum of a flywheel — a virtuous circle. We invest in park and recreation professionals and build a practice of excellence in our profession. That excellence creates credibility and positive outcomes, and in turn, increases our relevance and influence. With that influence, we lift up more stories of impact, we leverage a seat at the decision table, and we advocate and inspire more investment in that “community duty” to drive health, social and environmental benefits for all. NRPA and our mission is about creating a virtuous circle, rooted in investing in this field and our essential services.

That’s our why. At NRPA, we show up every day to bring this story and this cause to as many people as we possibly can, for you and for all.

Kristine Stratton is President and CEO of NRPA.