In honor of Parks and Recreation Month, I would like to highlight something most of us may not think about. Quality of life is a driver in our community. Perhaps if we label parks and recreation as quality of life, we may better understand their value. Public safety, economy, health, and the environment are all impacted by the parks and recreation profession.
So why is it that so many of the people parks and recreation professionals serve have no real sense of what it is they do? Simple. If they do their jobs well, it appears as if things just happen. Parks and Recreation professionals aren’t narcissistic and aren’t necessarily pursuing individualized, ambitious desires. They make things happen for the right reasons and very little self-gain outside of the intrinsic pleasure for serving others.
They just do. They provide quality of life, they spur the economy, they protect the environment, they support, they teach, they promote wellness, they…..well you get the point. I cannot identify many other professions that impact others in so many different ways.
I have heard that sometimes people just don’t see what they do. I have also heard that perhaps they just aren’t as topical as other priorities like public safety or development. I don’t believe any of that. I actually believe it is the opposite. They are perhaps, a little too good at what they do and maybe they are a little too selfless at announcing their value.
Let me explain. When you attend an event that draws 100,000 people, you are there to have fun. Your focus is on the experience, as it should be. When you learn about the indigenous wildlife around you for the first time, in a class, your focus is on the excitement of the live animal in front of you. When you ask that special someone to spend the rest of their life with you as you stand in a beautiful garden or park, your thoughts are on the moment in all its perfect surroundings.
The impacts and details are their job. It is visible, but sometimes you just don’t see it. The millions of dollars parks and recreation professionals bring in through those who traveled to that event and decided to shop, rent a hotel room, and eat at restaurants are the things that occur around your experience. The passion they ignite for environmental stewardship, with one simple environmental class, turns into a flame for those who will carry the torch of preservation tomorrow. One small instance can create a whole movement, but rarely does anyone reflect on the influence that started it. When you step into a garden or park that is maintained through countless hours of meticulous work that often includes blood, sweat and yes, some tears, you see the backdrop for a great experience. How it got that way becomes irrelevant to your cause.
In my career, I have managed construction, finances, human resources, and natural resources. I have repaired, taught, provided lifesaving support, rescued, inspired, sparked initiatives, and enjoyed countless other opportunities to serve. At heart, I was and still am a parks and recreation professional. I am today, by title, an Assistant City Manager. I still employ all the great things I learned as a parks and recreation professional. My passion has not changed, my motivation remains the same. No other career would have allowed me to be ready for the challenges and opportunities I have faced in this role. The City Manager of my community has a parks and recreation background. Many of the community leaders around me tell stories of their love for parks or the job they once had at an amusement park or community center. The influence is everywhere. Like so many things though, the experience doesn’t always translate into the overall impact.
The irony is parks and recreation professionals wear the lack of recognition like a badge of honor. Our impact is the long game. We seek to provide equality in quality of life. We wish to serve and support. Being under the radar allows us to do that free of pitfalls that become those constantly seeking recognition. Our schedule is to work when others do not. Our pride is to elevate others ahead of ourselves. Our joy is your smile. Our reward is your success.
When we do the job well, you get to enjoy without worrying about the details and that is the ultimate thank you. July is Parks and Recreation month. If you want to thank your parks and recreation professionals, go out and enjoy what they produce. After all, that’s why they do it.