Healthy Professionals, Healthy Communities

May 23, 2024, Department, by Jesús Aguirre

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

Summer is a busy time for park and recreation professionals, but it’s also a time to appreciate the vital support we provide to families nationwide. As schools break for summer, park and recreation agencies gear up to offer exciting outdoor and aquatics programs, as well as engaging and meaningful summer camps, giving children opportunities to play, learn and connect with their peers — while also providing much-needed childcare support for working families. Summer camps hosted by park and recreation agencies tend to be more affordable than private offerings for those with a wider range of income levels. This helps ensure children receive quality care during school breaks and working parents have access to reliable, enriching childcare. Equity lies at the heart of our work, and we strive to provide affordable, inclusive programs for all throughout every season.

Park and recreation professionals can best deliver high-quality programs to our communities with the grounding support of a healthy, inclusive workplace. This month marks Parks & Recreation’s Health and Wellness issue, and we encourage you to read its stories with a mindset of growth, considering how your agency can continue to support various dimensions of well-being for both community members and your team. In “Mental Health and Parks and Recreation,” on page 32, NRPA Senior Director of Programs Allison Colman delves into strategies for prioritizing mental health among park and recreation staff, particularly as they increasingly experience the effects of the nation’s mental health crisis and encounter distressed individuals in park and recreation settings. Park and recreation leaders can implement policies designed to safeguard the mental health of their staff, normalize conversations about mental health and drive positive change in our communities by modeling workplace well-being.

As we celebrate Pride Month, consider how you can center inclusion as we strive to ensure that all community members fully realize the benefits of parks and recreation. Mentorship is one important way park and recreation professionals connect with youth in our communities, and park and recreation professionals need the skills to mentor youth from diverse groups. Jonathan Echevarria Tolentino (he/him/él), MHS, PCC, QUEERSPACE collective consultant and sexual health specialist for the Department of Public Health at Hennepin County, Minnesota, provides insight in “Creating LGBTQ+ Inclusive Intersectional Mentoring Spaces,” on page 22. He says, “Creating 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusive intersectional mentoring spaces means providing a space where individuals can show up as their most authentic selves to connect, learn and grow in a safe and supportive environment.” Park and recreation professionals can use strategies outlined in the column to better shape spaces and experiences to meet the needs of all community members.

In honor of Juneteenth, explore the family history of Michael Pearl, the owner of Pearl Family Farm in Missouri, in “Exploring the Pearl Family Story,” on page 12, by Kristina Stanley, Overland Park (Kansas) Park and Recreation Department recreation supervisor. A frequent attendee of the Overland Park Farmers’ Market, Pearl is a fifth-generation farmer who continues his family’s long-standing farming tradition. Though both were born enslaved, his great-great-grandfather dreamed of owning land, and his great-grandfather achieved the goal and purchased 87 acres of land in 1890. Both gained their freedom, and today, Pearl honors their legacy by continually serving as a trusted leader and mentor in his community.

Inspiring park and recreation stories drive us to continue the important work of our field, supporting and bringing joy and connection to our communities. Throughout these busy months of summer fun, please remember to nurture your own health and well-being as you serve your community.

Jesús Aguirre is Chair of the NRPA Board of Directors.