Recreation Matters

This week I talked to yet another young person who is totally convinced that making money is the route to happiness. Despite working and doing a great job this summer as a special event organizer for a non-profit recreation organization, he is also certain his path includes a university degree in business. In the ensuing conversation we talked about values, learning about what is important to one’s self, and how money doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness. 

I also ended up sharing with him the reasons behind my choosing to work in the field of recreation and parks. Mostly I chose it because of what I didn’t want. While understanding its importance, I knew I didn’t want my life’s work to be about improving the bottom line of a business. I valued and wanted meaningful work that would make a difference in people’s lives and the communities in which they lived.

I lucked into the field of recreation as the result of a job at the Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club. It didn’t pay a lot and it was hard work but there is no doubt in my mind that we touched kid’s lives every single day and may, in fact, have saved some. 

In addition to looking out for kids to ensure they had opportunities to be active and creative as well as the self-esteem and skills to live a good life, I learned how to recruit and motivate staff and volunteers, fundraise, plan, design and implement programs, manage a facility, administer and budget, and organize outdoor activities. I was never bored.
Additionally, as the result of organizing support and services for club members who were financially, socially, or otherwise disadvantaged, I learned how communities worked, and sometimes didn’t work, as the result of having to connect with schools, social service and health organizations, businesses, justice, service clubs and different levels of government.

As my career progressed within municipal recreation and later teaching recreation at Niagara College, I worked with other recreation practitioners to support and build the capacity of non-profit organizations to deliver recreation, sports, arts, culture, and heritage. We made sure there were programs, events, and festivals as well as pools, arenas, parks and playing fields, trails for walking, jogging, and cycling and enjoying nature. Today my work is primarily focused on yet another key role of the recreation sector – community building.

Looking back, it’s clear that while I may not have improved the bottom line of a business, I did contribute to the bottom line of a number of communities along the way. The recreation support and services were an investment yielding a different kind of return.  Success was measured in how we were able to positively influence individual growth and wellness, enhance social inclusion and community development; protect and preserve natural environments; and enhance economic vitality.

And, while I like to think most would agree that’s important, I still used to hesitate before putting up my hand to say I am a recreation practitioner. The truth is that recreation and parks is a field that doesn’t always get a lot of respect.

It makes me sad because what we do during our leisure time helps us enjoy and make sense of our lives, our families, our communities and the world around us. It is a basic human need that contributes to our mental, physical, social, intellectual and spiritual well-being and, ultimately, to our happiness. The positive use of our leisure time and the participation, relationships, and strengthening of our communities that result, are typically reliant upon the distinct and often under-valued contribution of recreation and parks practitioners.

Recreation and parks practitioners work in a variety of settings – community or municipal recreation, sports, fitness, outdoor recreation, aquatic, facility management, parks, natural environments, special events, heritage, arts and cultural or, in some cases, settings that combine a few or many of the above.

Increasingly, recreation and parks practitioners are also evolving, or perhaps returning to their roots, to play a key leadership role within their communities as the result of their holistic approach, knowledge, and understanding of communities and civic engagement.

Engaging communities for recreation often leads to a role as a “community connector” or “catalyst” who plays a bridging role in engaging multiple disciplines and sectors to tackle broader issues related to quality of life. Because recreation is a safe and non-threatening vehicle that impacts everyone from cradle to grave, each person can relate to it. As such it is perfect vehicle for jumpstarting the collaboration necessary for building community capacity and resiliency.

This commitment to creating spaces and opportunities for quality of life, in combination with a passion and belief in the importance of work life balance, families, lifelong growth and health, and strong, vibrant communities, has resulted in recreation and parks practitioners who often tackle their work with an almost missionary zeal, seeing their work as a calling that allows them to make a difference, rather than simply doing a job.

So, as I wrapped up our conversation about values and my passion with the young man all set to major in business, I was gratified to hear him say that he would explore the field of recreation with a number of elective university courses.

For sure it’s a start and a decision he’ll likely never regret if he’s at all interested in the work of the heart, the health, and the spirit of individuals and the communities where they live.

Posted on 07-18-10


Amazing blog Brenda!  And so sums up how parks, recreation, arts, culture, and heritage is truly the heart of community.  It does allow for the opportunity for people to come together..


•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  07/19/10  at  12:44 AM

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