March 1, 2017

Confessions of a former Parks & Rec Kid

I confess, I was a major Parks and Recreation kid. I still have a drawer full of brightly colored, oversized and permanently stained turquoise t-shirts from every summer of my youth spent at the Middletown Department of Parks and Recreation Day Camp. I vividly remember the daily fight for a seat at the counselor’s picnic table, the monthly field trips to Water Wiz, those rainy days spent overtaking the nearby library and coming home so sweaty and dirty from hours of endless play that all my parents could do was hose me off in the driveway. It was there that I learned to play tennis with Counselor Mike, make a mean friendship bracelet with Head Counselor Christine, and jump beach waves with Counselor Kelly. Yes, those were the days.

Flash forward a few decades later and here I am, National Network Manager with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation reliving the glory days of my summer recreation past every day.

Working to support and train National Recreation & Park Association (NRPA) agencies to further incorporate healthy eating and physical activity into their programming has been both a privilege and an education. I feel honored to have the opportunity to support the Program Directors and Camp Counselors who mentored me so many years ago, and am constantly impressed with the industry’s universal dedication to public service and youth development.

Supporting Park and Recreation Agencies isn’t just about helping them upgrade snack programs to include more fruits and vegetables, changing vending machines to include healthier options, and teaching staff new games to get them and kids moving more, it is about raising awareness for the importance of recreation programming and the pivotal role that recreation staff play as healthy lifestyle role models.

During a recent visit to Seat Pleasant Activity Center in Prince George’s County, Maryland, I had the opportunity to see firsthand how this particular Parks and Recreation agency, with the support of the Alliance, was improving the health of the children it serves. The Activity Center has long been a pillar in the Seat Pleasant Community, and has helped shape multiple generations of families in the area.

I am always excited to visit Seat Pleasant Activity Center because they always strive to do more and better for their neighborhood.

From the moment I walked in, I was met with a crowd of seniors dancing to show-tunes, a new mother showing off her baby to the front desk staff, teens playing basketball in the gym and a herd of youth racing to be first in line for the day’s activity.

On this visit, I saw MyPlate signs posted everywhere, water bottles strewn about in the gym instead of sugary soda and sports drinks, front desk staff who brought a salad in from home to eat on shift and youth who ran right past the vending machines towards the fruit kebobs without hesitation.

For the staff that I work with, these past few years with the Alliance wasn’t about doing more work, it was simply about being intentional about the work they were doing and being true to their Park and Recreation roots. As I left that day, I was reminded by staff to stop by this summer during camp to check out all their new healthy activity ideas for the participants! Rest assured, this former Parks and Recreation kid never turns down an opportunity for another day at camp!

This year, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is celebrating the three-year anniversary of its Commit To Health campaign!

#CommitToHealth is a national campaign that encourages the implementation of the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards like ensuring that a fruit or vegetable is served at every meal, making sure that kids are getting 60-minutes of physical activity in a summer camp program, and providing drinking water at all times to youth and staff.

By providing technical support and on-the-ground assistance to NRPA, the Alliance has ensured over 200,000 kids across the country have a healthier place to learn, grow, and play.