Creating a Culture of Belonging

June 27, 2024, Department, by Kristine Stratton

kristine stratton 410(2)

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

Happy Park and Recreation Month! Summer is in full swing, and park visitor and recreation program participation levels across the country have risen with the temperatures. Children are attending summer camps, families are exploring the outdoors together, and adults are joining their friends in embracing new activities at recreation centers.

Through a diverse array of programming options and public spaces, parks and recreation serves people from all corners of our communities — from those seeking solace in nature to athletes cheering on their teammates, and from those looking to express themselves through art to those wanting to give back through volunteer work and more. However, as we engage both loyal and new patrons within our spaces and programs, we also must work to reach those we haven’t engaged yet and foster an environment where all feel welcomed.

We can’t fully achieve inclusivity and belonging without addressing the ways in which some people and groups have systematically been excluded. In 2021, we created a comprehensive story map, Equity in Parks and Recreation: A Historical Perspective, that outlines the evolution of parks and recreation in the United States from the 1600s through the present. In the story map, we explore who has (and has not) historically benefited from parks and recreation and how that has led to the inequities that exist today. Educating ourselves about systemic barriers helps us begin to overcome them through intentional outreach and placemaking.

A perfect example of a park and recreation agency that is dedicated to addressing these inequities and creating a culture of belonging is this year’s Park and Recreation Month cover contest winner, City of Corvallis (Oregon) Parks and Recreation. Through its theater program, staff at the agency have sought to engage people of all identities and abilities, including LGBTQIA2S+, older adults and anyone else with an interest in trying their hand at theater. By bringing people together — in this case, through the production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” — they have cultivated unprecedented connections and promoted mentorship and learning across generations. The story, “A Stage for All,” on page 34, beautifully exemplifies this year’s Park and Recreation Month theme: “Where You Belong.” Thank you and congratulations, City of Corvallis!

Thanks to the efforts of professionals like those at Corvallis Parks and Recreation, public parks and recreation programs are more inclusive than ever. However, there are still people within our communities waiting to find a place where they feel welcomed, valued and supported. This Park and Recreation Month is a time to celebrate and share all that our field has to offer each and every one of our community members. To assist in your efforts, NRPA has developed a toolkit complete with resources to help you reach your community this July. To access the toolkit and more information about Park and Recreation Month, visit

Thank you for all you do to bring the benefits of parks and recreation to every part of your communities. This month, and every month, we celebrate you.

Kristine Stratton is NRPA's President and CEO.