Beyond the Desk

June 27, 2024, Department, by Robert Carmona

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

It was a dream come true when I first became a director in Gilbert, Arizona. Gilbert had a special place in my heart before it ever became home. Early in my career, I had the pleasure of becoming a director in the fantastic small western town of Wickenburg, Arizona. My wife and I loved living in Wickenburg, and when it was time to start our family, the hospital and doctor we chose were an hour-and-a-half drive away in Gilbert. Every week we made that drive, and every time we arrived in Gilbert it was a community in which we felt engaged and inspired. When I first took the position in Gilbert, I dove head-first into being involved in every aspect of the department. I attended every special event, joined in on programs, and spent valuable time with the facilities and park maintenance staff, building a connected and cohesive culture.

Then something happened. Five years passed, and our team remained connected and cohesive, but one team member needed to be more present. I was more of an observer, emailing thanks instead of being there in person. The staff did not complain; they were always incredibly supportive. It did not feel natural — it was not being true to the leadership fundamentals that I built my career on. Then there was a week where, amid endless emails, retreats and night meetings, I realized I was missing what made me want to be a director in the first place. I needed the opportunity to authentically connect and create opportunities and change for the staff and the community I serve.

Take, for example, the Gilbert Days Festival. This event isn’t just a line item in a budget or a date on a calendar; it’s a tapestry of community spirit woven together by shared experiences. As leaders, our presence at such events isn’t merely ceremonial; it’s a powerful statement of support and solidarity with our teams and the community we serve. These moments allow us to connect with individuals from diverse backgrounds, each with their own stories and experiences.

Working alongside maintenance staff or helping with program preparations is about more than understanding the logistical aspects of our operations. It breaks down hierarchical barriers and cultivates a culture of inclusivity and teamwork.
In the ever-evolving world of community recreation and park management, the role of a leader extends far beyond strategic planning and administrative duties. The significance of putting down the laptop and stepping into the field cannot be overstated. These actions also remind us of why we chose this profession. It’s not just about managing spaces and programs; it’s about enriching lives and strengthening communities. By actively participating in the initiatives we oversee, we gain invaluable insights into what works, what doesn’t and what can be improved. It’s about being present, involved and connected. As we immerse ourselves in these experiences, we don’t just lead; we become an integral part of the community’s fabric, creating a stronger, more vibrant and more connected society.

SEE ALSO: “When My Job Became My Career,” Jim O’Connell, Parks & Recreation, February 2024, Vol. 59, Iss. 2.

Robert Carmona is Parks and Recreation Director at Gilbert, Arizona.