Every day, park and recreation professionals go above and beyond to provide their respective communities with equitable access to parks and essential recreation programming that supports people’s overall health and well-being. This was evident throughout the early months of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020 when cities and towns across the country implemented shelter-in-place orders.
During that stressful time, people gravitated toward parks and green spaces to connect with nature and tend to their physical and mental health. In fact, parks, trails and other outdoor amenities were the only recreational opportunities open to the public. According to the National Recreation and Park Association’s (NRPA’s) 2022 Engagement With Parks Report: “The variety and breadth of vital programming, services and offerings that local park and recreation professionals provide are evident in the sheer number of people who visit parks and/or other recreation facilities every year. Eighty-three percent of survey respondents — the equivalent of 275 million people in the United States — visited a local park or recreation facility at least once during the 12-month period ending in May 2022.”
Long before this global health crisis, NRPA supported these professionals by reminding elected officials, community stakeholders and the public at large that the field of parks and recreation is essential. That’s why each July, NRPA shines a spotlight on Park and Recreation Month by selecting a theme that recognizes the profession and its key role in bringing people together, offering vital services and helping our communities evolve. This year’s theme, “Where Community Grows,” embodies this notion completely.
The origins of Park and Recreation Month
According to the NRPA website: “Since 1985, people in the United States have celebrated Park and Recreation Month in July to promote building strong, vibrant and resilient communities through the power of parks and recreation and to recognize the more than 160,000 full-time park and recreation professionals — along with hundreds of thousands of part-time and seasonal workers and volunteers — that maintain our country’s local, state and community parks.”
However, Park and Recreation Month represents more than people simply enjoying our public spaces. As NRPA President and CEO Kristine Stratton asserts in the July issue of Parks & Recreation magazine, “Through our commitment to excellence, learning and growing, we ensure this field continues to deliver the community benefits that we are all so proud of — benefits like health and wellness, climate resilience and social connection.”
NRPA research has found that 93 percent of U.S. adults say their mental health is improved by services offered by local park and recreation professionals and agencies. However, experts estimate that as many as 100 million people — 30 percent of the U.S. population — lack access to the lifesaving and life-enhancing benefits parks and recreation provides.
Through efforts by NRPA, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an official resolution for Park and Recreation Month in 2009 and introduced the resolution in 2017 and 2018.
A picture is worth a thousand words
NRPA complements its chosen theme with an annual Park and Recreation Month Cover Contest. Each year, park and recreation agencies submit their photos that they believe best illustrate the theme with the goal of being featured on the July cover of Parks & Recreation magazine. This year, City of Glenwood Springs (Colorado) Parks and Recreation earned bragging rights with its inspiring image of Isaac Alonso, a young community member who participates in the agency’s therapeutic recreation program. What’s more, Glenwood Springs Parks and Recreation’s Helaine “Laine” Fabijanic and the Alonso family were profiled in the cover story by Cort Jones, NRPA’s senior manager of digital content.
As Glenwood Springs’ first community and therapeutic recreation supervisor, Fabijanic focuses on building relationships and trust with patrons of all abilities. “My purpose and passion are to help provide therapeutic recreation for our community here, giving people an opportunity to recreate who normally don’t get that opportunity and maybe aren’t even seen or programmed for,” said Fabijanic.
Jones wrote, “Therapeutic recreation allows people to have fun and to socialize while practicing the skills that they’re learning in physical therapy, speech therapy or occupational therapy. It is an opportunity to transfer the knowledge someone learns in other therapeutic settings in a fun way through recreational activity, which also contributes to growth and quality of life.”
Glenwood Springs’ image and park and recreation story not only encapsulate the true meaning behind the “Where Community Grows” theme, but also supports NRPA’s mission of placing equity at the center of this impactful work.
What’s more, the organization provides park and recreation agencies with NRPA’s Park and Recreation Month 2023 Outreach Toolkit (https://www.nrpa.org/events/july/toolkit/). This valuable resource helps agencies to promote and celebrate this month-long event in their communities. The toolkit includes:
Media alerts for special events
Press release templates
Key messages for use during interviews
Social media posts
A sample editorial article agencies can submit to local publications
Park and recreation professionals should also utilize their social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to share with their community how they are celebrating Park and Recreation Month with the hashtag #WhereCommunityGrows.
Make it official
Proclaiming July as Park and Recreation Month is an ideal way for a park and recreation agency’s community and local leadership to make an official acknowledgement of parks and recreation’s importance along with the benefits the field offers its community members. In addition, such a proclamation can draw local media attention, bringing greater awareness to your programs and service offerings.
However, agencies should note that every locality has its own policies on how to get a proclamation commemorating something (or someone) approved. Here is an outline of the usual process and tips on how to get July proclaimed as Park and Recreation Month in your community:
1. Determine who has the authority to make the proclamation. Usually, this is a locally elected official: mayor, city council, board of supervisors, parks and recreation commission, school board, etc. You may also want to ask around to see if there is an existing process for proclamations.
2. Determine who should ask for the proclamation. The strongest case for having July declared as Park and Recreation Month in your local community would come from a voter (a member of the general public) rather than an elected official.
3. Create the proclamation. Start with the template proclamation and include as much local information as possible. Make the case for the essential role parks and recreation plays in your community.
4. Start now! Timing is often the biggest issue. Your mayor or council may have designated dates and times per month when they consider proclamations and if you miss the deadline, you miss the opportunity.
This year, Park and Recreation Professionals Day takes place July 21. This is an opportunity for agencies to host an event that recognizes the great work of their dedicated staff and allows community members to personally thank them for their tireless service.
Great work shouldn’t go unnoticed
Park and recreation professionals don’t always tout their essential work sufficiently despite the data showing that people depend on these services. In fact, “84 percent of U.S. adults seek high-quality parks and recreation when selecting a place to live,” while “nine in 10 people agree that parks is an important service provided by their local government.”
When it comes to telling their story, Jones said, “I think a lot of times, there are challenges around communicating all of the things that an agency does in the community to their community members. Park and Recreation Month really gives them that avenue to just take already-created messaging featured in our toolkit, and then plug in the things that they are doing. It also helps to provide a unified front across all agencies.”
This July, be sure to boast about your park and recreation agency’s accomplishments and show everyone all the ways in which your work helps to make communities grow.
Vitisia Paynich is executive editor of Parks & Recreation magazine and director of print and online content at the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), the leading not-for-profit organization dedicated to building strong, vibrant and resilient communities through the power of parks and recreation (email@example.com).
Above:Parks & Recreation magazine July 2023 cover photo courtesy of Joe Van Wyk, City of Glenwood Springs (Colorado) Parks and Recreation.