Centering Equity in Parks and Recreation

January 25, 2024, Department, by Jesús Aguirre

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

As we celebrate Black History Month this February, the park and recreation field honors the legacy and accomplishments of Black people throughout U.S. history. The park and recreation field is well-positioned to hold events to commemorate Black History Month and highlight initiatives to advance equity in their local communities. Be sure to read about the expansive Black History Month celebration taking place in Cary, North Carolina, on page 14. The town will host a series of events that feature Black history, culture, and achievements in science, technology, research, education, and arts and music. Cary’s celebrations focus on fostering inclusivity and affirm the town’s commitment to a more equitable future for all. This month and every day, I encourage you to consider how you can advance equity in your department, agency and community.

In this issue of Parks & Recreation magazine, we are excited to share our 30 Under 30 winners and recognize the accomplishments of these young park and recreation professionals. Each is driving equity, progress and innovation in the park and recreation field through their committed public service and leadership. I hope the stories of their unique contributions inspire you to consider how you can best ensure that all members of your community can pursue holistic health and well-being through equitable access to nutritious food, physical activity, open space and social connection.

Oftentimes, park and recreation professionals form partnerships with other government departments and agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private entities to amplify their reach and successfully achieve their mission. Partnerships and collaboration drive excellence in our field, and I am consistently amazed by what can be accomplished when organizations with shared goals unite. Stafford County (Virginia) Parks and Recreation saw a need for meaningful employment opportunities for working-age adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities, and staff developed a solution that far exceeded what people consider the scope of traditional park and recreation offerings. Contributor Elena Messenger tells the story of the program in her article, “Stafford Connects,” on page 42. Stafford County’s park and recreation staff joined with other departments to create a program through which adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities partner with government employees to explore various job functions and roles during a 12-week period. Participants gain experience and build their résumé while learning what kinds of roles suit their interests and skills. This collaborative effort comes at a critical time as the unemployment rate among adults with disabilities was 7.6 percent in 2022, nearly twice the rate of the general population. Since the program has grown, both government and partner organizations may now apply to participate in Stafford Connects, broadening available opportunities. Participants gain confidence and self-esteem by building skills, connecting with others and contributing to a larger mission — essential experiences all of us need to feel a sense of satisfaction and well-being.

As you progress in your career, never limit yourself in terms of what you think you can accomplish in service to your community. All of us can help create a brighter future for one another.

Jesús Aguirre is Chair of the NRPA Board of Directors.