Monday, June 12, 2017

Cemeteriescape Photography Contest Captures the Beauty of Cemeteries and Attention of Local Residents



by Victoria S. Jessie
Public Information Specialist II
City of Norfolk Recreation, Parks, & Open Spaces

"Angel" by Bill Niven, Elmwood Cemetery


When people think of intricately carved statues and sculptures, massive marble monuments, towering columns and brilliantly colored stained glass, they most likely visualize seeing these items in the long hallways of a museum. To the surprise of many, seeing these treasures doesn’t require membership to a museum or even tickets; these magnificent sights can be found in your local cemetery. Unfortunately, the art that exists so prominently in cemeteries goes largely unnoticed. Since most traffic in cemeteries occurs during burial services, many people never have the opportunity to appreciate – let alone notice – the wide variety of beauty in cemeteries. The Cemeteriescape Photography Contest and Exhibit has changed that reality.

"Kaleidoscope-1" by Jim Heath, Elmwood Cemetery


Sponsored by the non-profit organization Norfolk Society for Cemetery Conservation (NSCC), Cemeteriescape invites people to visit local cemeteries in Hampton Roads and embark on a creative survey of cemeteries. Void of many technical and stylistic restrictions, the contest rules allow contestants to enjoy a great deal of freedom of expression. Whether using a cell phone or traditional camera, contestants can snap pictures of anything in the cemetery that they deem worthy of recognition.  Now in its fourth year, the contest continues to draw interest from amateur and professional photographers alike. With nearly 100 entries, this year’s judges were tasked with selecting winners for four winning categories; Best in Show, Second Place, Third Place and Board Choice. The recipient of the first place award – Best in Show – earns the highly coveted prize of $1,000.  Although the official contest ends with the judges’ decisions, Cemeteriescape continues with a large exhibit of all contestants’ entries during the reception.

"Christs's Crucifixion" by Russell Morrison, Cedar Grove Cemetery


The impact of Cemeteriescape goes beyond simply highlighting the beauty of local cemeteries. For many contestants, the contest created a fun and quite unusual opportunity for an outing. For Melody Agnew, the real award was quality time with family. Agnew commented, “At first I was sad I didn’t win, but then I realized that I did because I had a great time with my son taking these pictures!” This type of participation is reminiscent of the way cemeteries were once used. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, cemeteries were not only places of burial, they served as gathering places for extracurricular activities. Unlike in more modern times, destinations for fun and past times were scarce. While the thought of dining in a cemetery would most likely draw ire today, it was very common to see scores of people picnicking in large, picturesque cemeteries such as Dayton, Ohio’s Woodland Cemetery. For this reason, people frequented cemeteries – sometimes considered outdoor museums – for a host of activities including carriage races, leisurely strolls, reading, knitting and even hunting, when the landscape permitted it. Although such activities are certainly characteristic of a bygone era, today cemeteries coast to coast still provide creative opportunities for leisure. Cinespia at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Santa Monica, California for example, is a popular movie screening event that has at times, attracted up to 4,000 moviegoers. Likewise, Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C. has become such a favorite destination for its pet friendly policies that it has a waiting list for its dedicated dog park program.

"Beneath the Snow I Sleep" by Susie Coplon, Elmwood Cemetery


The Norfolk Bureau of Cemeteries, a division of the Department of Recreation, Parks and Open Space, wants to see a resurgence of similar non-invasive activities. The division continuously identifies ways to increase public interest in non-burial related activities in Norfolk’s eight municipal cemeteries, which are considered to be open space.   The Bureau of Cemeteries meets this objective by supporting a variety of NSCC’s special events such as Cemeteriescape, volunteer workdays, walking tours, as well as holiday memorial services through its public-private partnership with the non-profit. Though these special events have many exciting elements that attract participation, their foremost purpose is to raise awareness about the importance of conservation, education and advocacy for Norfolk’s cemeteries. With six of its eight cemeteries established before 1900, the City of Norfolk is dedicated to preserving both the memories of the people of Norfolk and the rich history of the city. For more information on how you can contribute to preserving Norfolk’s cemeteries, visit www.norfolksocietyforcemeteryconservation.org.  Information on Norfolk’s historic cemeteries, can be found here http://www.norfolk.gov/cemeteries.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

SRG: Talking About Ageism in the Swamp of Public Thinking

Senior Center Director
Arlington County Department of Parks & Recreation


“Words once they are printed, have a life of their own” – Carol Burnett



The conversations about aging are changing.  AARP has a campaign called Disrupt Aging which champions personal choice and owning yourself no matter what decade you were born in.  Dr. Ayn Welleford’s #DisruptAgeism hones in on the way negative ways society describes aging, whether in conversation, writing or advertising.  It seemed time to bring the conversation to the senior center where I work.  Engaging with participants about how older Americans can be agents of change regarding the negative perceptions that surround getting older would be a great start.

I enlisted a presenter.  I wrote the description for the discussion and submitted it for publication.  We were going to talk, learn from each other and affirm our changing demographics.  People were living longer and that was a good thing. I was looking forward to being part of a meaningful discussion. Here is a description of the program:

Talking to Your Family About Ageism
Ageism is one of the last socially acceptable forms of discrimination.  One look at the cosmetic aisle in any drugstore will confirm that.  How your family perceives you as you progress through life will determine how and where you live as well as other choices.  Take part in this discussion led by (name left out) to help you and help your loved ones.

The write-up produced a reaction I did not expect. An irate call came shortly after the program guide starting arriving in the mail. A citizen read my write-up and came to the conclusion that I was supportive of ageism.  This person called the place where the presenter worked, the Senior Center and gave everyone (including my supervisor) who happened to be on the other end of the phone the “what for”.  The situation was made worse because I was out of town and never got a chance to speak to this individual.  I did get a blow by blow account (from more than one person) of the interaction. It was torturous.  This is crazy, I thought.  I carefully crafted this write-up. But, in the end, my message backfired. What happened?

Well, there were many things I didn’t include in the write up. The Frameworks Institute, a non-profit that looks at how communication relates to how social policies are discussed, developed a tool-kit to talk about aging.  They compare public thinking to a swamp because something can come out of nowhere and attack you unless you learn to anticipate how your message may be perceived.  Yup.

They noted that there are huge differences between what professionals think and what the public thinks.  Without the proper frame, phrases or words can trigger negative responses.  So my first sentence should have defined ageism and offered an immediate solution.  There were so many things I could have done differently.   

This most recent experience has made me think about how those of us who work with the 55 plus population trek through the swamp of public thinking every day.  Our purpose in the recreation field is to create different programs that will engage and encourage regular participation in a demographic that is at risk for social isolation.  The challenge is that we interact with an incredibly diverse population in terms of age difference, education, experiences and cultures.  While I am sure we all agree that you can’t please everyone it’s important to make sure everyone at the very least feels included.

How do you navigate the swamp of public thinking? 

June

Monday, April 24, 2017

SRG: Two Hands for Helping

by Adriana Carr, MPA
Senior Center Director
Arlington County Department of Parks & Recreation


“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands - one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” – Audrey Hepburn.


Just about anyone who works with volunteers will agree that they are the reason the program is a success; the work gets done; they are backbone of the organization and so on and so on.  It’s hard to imagine the daily grind without them.   The benefits are reciprocal because volunteering also has a positive impact on the volunteer in a variety of ways.   According to research conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service “older volunteers report lower mortality and depression rates, fewer physical limitations, and higher levels of well-being. (2015)”.

Other researchers found that the benefits of volunteering affect various aspects of a person’s life such as social, physical, emotional health.  For example, older adults who had few opportunities for social interactions in their lives found that volunteering increased their opportunities for friendship and the socializing helped to improve their self-perception. This same study connected social health to improved emotional and physical health.  I would suggest that keeping these ideas in mind may also help us manage our volunteers and volunteer programs better.

Take a look at how your volunteer program affects your volunteers.  They are certainly helping you out.   So think about how you can support your volunteers with a multi-dimensional approach. Go beyond the usual recognition activities and take the 7 dimensions of well-being into consideration to make your volunteer program a holistic one.   Affirming someone’s worth in the community, helping them remain vital and connected is the foundation of most of our work with our clients/participants.  It would be natural to extend that approach to our volunteers.

Some examples of whole person volunteer management from around the Old Dominion include:

In the Norfolk area,  Hope Lomax Jones of Recreation, Parks and Open Spaces Senior Programs tells us that older adults help out as volunteers all the time, especially during large city-wide events like Senior Olympics and Grand Parents Day Events.  Additionally, the volunteers are “either intrigued or feel a sense of empowerment that we value the use of their skills.” This also adds excitement to the event and helps to generate interest.

In Loudoun County, volunteers are a vital component of senior center operations and programs. Cheryl Wheeler of The Senior Center of Leesburg tells me that that volunteers share their time as Advisory board members, front desk and library staff; kitchen assistance, concierges who give tours, hospitality help, class instructors, kitchen servers and delivering meals to homes.  One special group, the Community Ambassadors provides a grassroots effort to enhance safety among the seniors in the community.

Volunteers not only help us do our jobs; they strengthen our connection with our communities.  If you take whole approach to developing your recreational programming, increase its value by implementing whole person management techniques with your volunteers.


Join the conversation by telling us what your volunteer management style is.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Blog About a Blog

by Nancy Turnage
Member Services Coordinator
Virginia Recreation and Park Society

In my position at VRPS Central Office, I love watching the evolution of service areas and resource groups from year-to-year, and in particular, their stellar efforts at growth.  It seems that in July, when we're putting together resource group and service area ballots for the following year (yes, it starts in July), that we were just starting to get a groove going with the current year boards.

However, I am seeing greater transition between the two teams - the current and oncoming ones.  There is less "starting over" and more "picking up where we left off".

For example, Senior Resource Group is holding call-in meetings, formulating a theme-driven effort for the year, and blogging.  Aquatics Resource Group is hosting GoTo meetings, employing creative methods to expand their reach, and qualifying themselves to be a go-to resource in Virginia for aquatics training.  And, several of the event committees are charting new territory as well, into the world of webinars and Google docs and apps and WebEx.

Recently, under the guidance of Chair Heather Grubb (Special Events Coordinator, Henrico County Recreation and Parks), the Central Service Area has initiated its own blog.

So, in a sense, this is a blog about a blog.  Central Service Area is employing some newer "talent" (i.e. what some of us would consider professionals on the more youthful side) to reach a wider audience and highlight their objectives.

2017 is off to a great start!


Monday, March 13, 2017

Dancing for the Heart and Mind

by Adriana Carr, MPA
Senior Center Director
Arlington County Department of Parks & Recreation


“There are short cuts to happiness and dancing is one of them” – Vicki Baum.


It’s time to start talking about dancing.  Why? Well so many of us work with participants who are crazy about dancing. Most of all, because it’s fun and being ambassadors of fun is one of the many hats we wear.  If you’re looking to add extra pizazz to your programming, consider more dance.

According to a Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute Letter, dance is one of those activities that exercises both the brain and body.  Learning new steps or patterns activates the neurons and moving to music moves your body.  There are also the benefits that are gained from listening to music when exercising.

For those of you who love the science of things, dancing improves motor function, memory, spatial recognition and increases endorphin levels.  Dance is also utilized as a way to treat neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.  On the social and big picture side, a whole group of people moving to music, smiling and having a great time is always a wonderful sight to see.

Scheduling any type of partner dance program always brings with it the challenge of one gender outnumbering the other.  That’s why line dancing is a perfect choice.  No partner necessary!  The music that accompanies a line dance can be as varied as the choreography.  Country western, Motown or popular dance music are all good choices.  The complexity of the dance can also vary according to the level of the people doing the dances.  The most important thing is that everyone can dance.

Of course, there are some sticky details to consider.  I have on one occasion or two blindly set up a line dance event only to be flummoxed by the different definitions of dance levels.  To me a beginner dance is for someone who barely knows their right foot from their left.  That’s not quite right apparently.  There are several levels: beginner, beginner-beginner,  just getting started beginner, dance newbie (different from beginner-beginner) and new beginner.  I gave up before I could even get to the next level!  That’s where having a season line dance teacher comes in handy.  They tell you what level, steps and music are involved.

After all that, I still believe that if you want to improve your fun credentials, you can’t go wrong with including several line dance programs.  You might even want to organize a line dance party!  Speaking of parties, we’re still hoping to coordinate a state-wide line dance event.  What line dance levels does your center offer? What’s the most popular types of music?  Let us know.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Travels with the Awards Committee

by Sandy Kellogg

Aquatic Operations Supervisor, Mount Vernon RECenter
Fairfax County Park Authority
VRPS Aquatics Resource Group 2016 Chair
VRPS 2016 Awards Co-Chair

In case you missed the premier event of the season, it’s available online!  No, not the Oscars or even the Razzies, we just finished the VRPS Awards webinar.  It is archived on the VRPS webinar page, available for immediate viewing, and if you combine it with the upcoming Dog Park webinar can actually count forCEU’s (CEU Session Approval for Workshop Attendance), much more useful than a shiny gold statue!

We have already published blogs about the awards process, the ways to submit, even the amount of work that is represented in the number of submissions.  That’s not what I want to talk about.  What I want to talk about is much more fun, and much more important for the Awards committee.

I drive a lot through the state. The Aquatics Resource Group keeps me moving to different trainings, roundtables and meetings.  The best part about serving on the Awards Committee has been recognizing some of the amazing places and events that this state has to offer.  I am very proud to work for the Fairfax County Park Authority, and the renovation at the Watermine Family Swimming Hole is amazing and HUGE, but I will never drive through Staunton without thinking about "Irish Road Bowling", go through Henrico county without thinking to myself “it’s pronounced Hen-Rye-Co”, or see public art without wishing I could get down to Danville to walk the art trail.


The awards are not just about the plaque or the picture; it truly is about the excitement, the spirit and the pride that goes into projects all around the state.  I admit I have a soft spot for the small departments, the rural locations, and the shoestring budgets that bring such amazing programs and facilities to the people of this state.  As we go into another award season, please make sure you are letting your passion show in your applications, but more importantly know that we truly are making a difference.

Click here for a link to past winner archives and the 2017 application - recognizing excellence in 2016.

Many thanks to Boomer and Waldo, both of who inspired the Awards Webinar presenters.  Which are you?  #TEAMDOG or #TEAMCAT ??


Monday, February 27, 2017

Living Inspired and Focused as Empowered Professionals

by Adriana Carr, MPA
Senior Center Director
Arlington County Department of Parks & Recreation




Finding Inspiration


Age is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been”  – David Bowie

As professionals in the fields of recreation, aging and community building our efforts serve a vast range of older adults.  Our jobs are driven by our mission to encourage older adults to remain active and social. Fostering an environment where our customers can continually find their potential and grow into their visions of themselves takes inspiration, work and a multi-faceted approach to professional development.

Committing to find inspiration and stay focused on our mission empowers us as professional and subsequently empowers the people with whom we work.  There are already a variety of tools available to us.  For example, NRPA's January edition of Parks&Recreation focuses on active aging. One article, Older Adults: Exploring their changing demographics and health outlook points to increasing numbers of older adults by M. Jeanne Keller (pp37-39), is a really good read for the recreation professional who works with older adults.  This demographic is expected to increase their involvement in “municipal recreation, fitness and wellness programs" when they retire.

For the proactive recreation professional the following four programming models presented in this article provide recommendations to meet this diverse and growing demand.  A brief synopsis follows:

Flourish over a cup of coffee


For the younger older adult, implementing a program based on the café model may be the way to boost participant engagement.  Expanding on the coffee house concept  this model provides opportunities for learning and socializing.  According to Keller, this kind of program can increase participation by 57%.  A typical visit would start with a cup of coffee and then proceed on to an educational seminar or social event. Some café based programs offer exercise classes as well.

Virtual Senior Programs


Based on the technology model, this approach looks to fill the access gap.  Whether for health, economic or transportation reasons not all older adults have the opportunities to reap the benefits that come from being involved in a senior recreation program.  Whether it involves establishing a virtual senior center, groups conversations via telephone or computer classes, technology then becomes a medium that helps older adults stay connected to their community.

A Lifetime of Learning


While some may think that learning stops at college, there are an increasing number of retirees who continue to flourish by broadening their horizons through continuous learning.  That could mean taking courses in foreign languages, applying for a professional certification, going back for additional formal education or pursuing a new hobby.  The research behind lifelong learning model is based on the idea that the brain has a continuous ability to learn. This improves a person’s well-being, self-perception and ability to adapt to change.

Promoting the Dimensions of Wellness


In general, these are programs that address the various facets of humans.  Depending on the source, there are either six or seven dimensions of wellness.  The goal is to create innovative programs based on active aging research.  Partnering with local universities, hospitals, local and state governments are several ways to present evidence based programs that benefit your participants and their changing needs.   Some examples include fall prevention programs, fraud awareness, art appreciation and college level courses. 

Which model would work with your customers? Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks.






Monday, February 20, 2017

LEARN, TRANSFORM, INSPIRE

by Jacqueline M. Johnson
Facilities Manager
City of Norfolk Recreation, Parks and Open Space
VRPS 2016 Graduate

WOW!!!! LTI 2016 was the absolute best conference I’ve attended to date. It lived up to the hype – LEARN, TRANSFORM, INSPIRE! was the theme. The conference was rooted in the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator (shout out to all the ENFJ family – sorry…I digressed) which lead to so many light bulb moments. Being with so many different personalities within our profession helped me LEARN why we do what we do and how each person has an equally positive impact in the field (it also justified my quirkiness but who’s judging).

As the conference progressed, the sessions got more and more….relevant. Man, did the planning committee hit a home run!! We discussed everything from, how authenticity inspires action, cultivating teams, clarifying roles, investing in employees, dealing with organization change, shared leadership, TRANSFORMing organizations, nose jousting (yes…just like it sounds) and we even sang!

The bottom line is, VRPS recognizes the importance of offering high quality, professional development opportunities to help local municipalities grow, INSPIRE our patrons and help them become better people. If you are considering attending LTI in 2018…DO IT! DO IT! DO IT! (in my best peer pressure voice). You won’t regret it!!





Monday, February 13, 2017

Virginia Senior Games: What are they?

by Nancy Turnage
Member Services Coordinator
VRPS Central Office


This is an update on a blogpost from days past - about 845 days past, actually.

In October, 2014, I was working on results from my 2nd Virginia Senior Games.  Now, in February, 2017, we're working on registration, coordinating, and all the other tasks that go into producing a great event.  It seems that the Virginia Senior Games are still doing their thing - making people happy, encouraging activity, and continually proving that "you're only as old as you feel".

A few weeks ago, I returned from the 2017 National Senior Games Conference.  There were representatives from most states, and we learned much about what's happening outside our own Games.  For example, North Dakota is embarking on their first games ever this year.  Massachusetts is a proponent of SAFE testing for athletes (Senior Athlete Fitness Exam), and Florida holds its games in December - to accommodate, among others, those athletes who did not qualify for National Senior Games earlier in the year and want one last go.  We discussed registration and results and marketing and funding.  We shared sponsorship ideas and terminology and successes and failures.  And, mostly, we marveled at the great opportunity that the Senior Games provides for communities all over the country.

So, please enjoy the story below.  Because it's a story that's worth telling, and sharing.



Virginians, like the rest of America, are riding the age wave:

  • Roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 today, and this will continue every day through 2030 (Pew Research Center).
  • An American turns 50 every 7 seconds – that’s more than 12,500 people every day (US Census).
  • The senior age group is now, for the first time, the largest in terms of size and percent of the population in the U.S. By 2015, those aged 50 and older will represent 45 percent of the U.S. population (AARP).




The Virginia Recreation and Park Society (VRPS) is a private, non-profit professional organization, founded in 1953. Its purpose is to unite all professionals, students, and interested lay persons engaged in the field of recreation, parks, and other leisure services in the Commonwealth of Virginia. VRPS is affiliated with the National Recreation and Park Association.

In keeping with its mission to promote parks and recreation to the benefit of Virginians, VRPS produces the Virginia Senior Games (VSG), an annual athletic event offering competition in over 21 sports over the course of 4 days for participants aged 50 and older. The first Virginia Senior Games were held in 1978 in Richmond and presented contests in 14 sports. The Games move around the state and are typically hosted in the same locality for four years before moving on. Athletes today can compete in upwards of 21 sports, ranging from Archery to Volleyball and most everything in between. Recent, popular additions include Pickleball, Cycling, and Disc Golf.



The Virginia Senior Games is a qualifying competition for the National Senior Games, which take place every other year. VSG is also an open event, so that no scores or times are required for entry. Athletes can compete in multiple sports, and out-of-state sportspersons are welcome. Competition adheres to National Senior Games rules, and medals are awarded in each age category (5-year increments). Additionally, athletes and their guests are treated to an annual Athletes’ Party and Wellness Fair, based on a new festive theme each year and offering activities, musical entertainment, and snacks, all in keeping with a showcase for services and resources for healthy lifestyles in Virginia.

Clearly, the benefits to VSG athletes are monumental – the physical demands of competition encourage participants to train year-round, in many cases. This preparation also lends itself both to greater daily structure and socializing. And, needless to say, winning, losing, and teamwork are their own reward. However, one might wonder if the true winners are the volunteers and spectators.

  • To witness a 101-year-young swimmer complete in both 50m and 100m freestyle swimming races, and thereby set World Records, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
  • To watch a 77-year-young Vietnam War veteran tossing horseshoes and bowling balls from his wheelchair, where he has sat since 1963 as the only survivor of his combat helicopter flight, is a privilege.
  • To meet a 50-something-year-young road racer who competes wearing a fluffy pink tutu is a lesson in what matters.
For some, especially the women, VSG is the first time in their lives that they have the opportunity to learn and experience the value of sport competition. Every athlete has a story – and it begins back home, during the course of their training and their decision to compete in the Virginia Senior Games. For example, that 101-year old swimmer drove herself to the pool every morning at 5am to train. That “horseshoer” was an advocate for ADA and spent most of his life working with autistic individuals. The road racer … well she’s simply a knockout ….

Virginia Senior Games fun facts:

  • 2017 is the 39th year of the Virginia Senior Games.
  • Competition is offered in: Archery, Badminton, Basketball, Billiards, Bowling, Canasta, Cycling, Disc Golf, Golf, Horseshoes, Mini Golf, Pickleball, Pinochle, Racquetball, Road Race, Shuffleboard, Softball, Swimming, Table Tennis, Tennis, Track & Field, and Volleyball.
  • Athletes must be 50 on or before December 31 of the competition year in order to participate.
  • Team competition is offered in both Basketball and Volleyball.
  • Partners and teams compete in the age group of the youngest participant.
  • Registration for the games begins at the beginning of the year, and the games take place mid-May.
  • Henrico County Recreation and Parks will be hosting the 2017 games.
  • To learn more about Virginia Senior Games, visit www.virginiaseniorgames.org
  • To enjoy photos and more, visit www.facebook.com/Virginia.Senior.Games
In memory of Samuel “Doc” Morton (September 20, 1937 – July 8, 2014) and all the others who will not return to the Games in 2017. Thank you for your years of exemplary athletic dedication and competition.

Visit the Virginia Senior Games webpage
Interested in becoming a sponsor or Wellness Expo exhibitor?
See all the fun on Facebook!
Enjoy the latest Athlete E-Blast
View the 2017 Registration Brochure

Monday, February 6, 2017

What Does LTI Stand For?

by Kat Fish
Aquatics Specialist II
Splashdown Waterpark
Prince William County Parks and Recreation
VRPS 2018 LTI Co-Chair

LTI stands for the Leadership Training Institute, VRPS’s premier retreat style institute held at the Wintergreen Resort. The institute is exclusive as it only accommodates 60 participants in its weekend full of leadership development, educational sessions, team building, and networking. The LTI Committee hit the ground running in January planning the 2018 institute. The Institute has developed an excellent reputation in our Society because of its original educational programming and our ability to continue to adapt and change the program to remain relevant and current. The institute will be held April 15-17, 2018 and the registrations will go live in March 2017. It is never too early to start discussing your 2018 training plan your supervisor. You do not want to miss out on this exclusive opportunity.



2018 LTI Committee:
Kristen Hamill, CPRP
Newport News Parks, Recreation & Tourism


Matt Spruill, CPRP
Colonial Heights Recreation & Parks


Amy Woodson, CPRP
Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation

Kat Fish
Prince William County Parks & Recreation 


Cindy Roeder
Herndon Parks & Recreation
cindy.roeder@herndon-va.gov

Claire Richardson
Staunton Parks & Recreation
richardsonca@ci.staunton.va.us

James Mickle
Norfolk Parks, Recreation & Open Space

james.mickle@norfolk.gov

Kelley Herbert
James City Co. Parks & Recreation
kelley.herbert@jamescitycountyva.gov

Terry Caldwell, CPRP, AFO
Christiansburg Aquatic Center

Monday, January 30, 2017

Cunningham Recreation: Healing Communities through Play

by Victoria Schmitt Babb
Director, "Play 4 ALL" Campaign
Partnered with Cunningham Recreation

Turn on the television, read the news, follow Tweets, scroll through feeds on Facebook and it is evident that our world is becoming more and more polarized than ever before (at least in my lifetime).   People are hunkering down in philosophical and dogmatic silos where perspectives are “us” versus “them” and if you are not with us then you must be against us.   There is a loss of “we” happening in America.     Now is the critical time to band together on something that can bring back the “we”.   Now, not tomorrow.

What can revive the “we” in America? Many things, but for starters…play.    Play is a neutral, but effective way to bring various sectors together.   Regardless of differences, people from all walks of life can identify with play.  We all know about the intrinsic force to play. Children need play, children want to play.   Not only does the play space bring people literally together to interact with one another, work together, take turns, and foster friendships, but the effort to bring play to a designated site is something that is just as cohesive.

Two years ago, my childhood stomping grounds of Ferguson, Missouri lit up every news network across America and even attracted attention from international networks.   The images of the upheaval, the anger, the violence still linger in some of our minds.   A line of police officers stood wearing riot gear, shields in their hands, faces protected to thwart off a very angry crowd.  The majority of the “protestors” who reeked the most havoc came from areas outside of the quiet, suburban area in North St. Louis County.  Nevertheless, the world watched as police and people struggled against one another.   This just did not happen one night but a series of weeks, both in August of 2014 and again in November 2014.


After reading an article about local police officers handing out ice cream to children in order to help foster positive relationships, the Play 4 ALL team, an extension of Cunningham Recreation, wanted to expand on that effort and offered the idea to give something more sustainable… a playground.   In less than 4 weeks, we reached out to the Fraternal Order of Police through the St. Louis Police Association and the City leadership in Ferguson.  Both groups loved the idea to raise the philanthropic dollars to bring a playground to the Ferguson Community Center.   The site was slated to one day have a playground when the city budget would allow for it.   No need to wait, the resource of both funds and labor were mobilized in 48 hours.   Equipment was ordered through GameTime and a community build date was set.

On September 29th, 2016 a group of committed volunteers arrived on the playground site, some with tools in their hands while others had never picked up a tool in their life.   Police officers, firefighters, local Ferguson residents including youth, homeless youth living at a Youth in Need transitional living program, Ferguson Police Chief, Ferguson Mayor, Ferguson small business owners, along with people from across the St. Louis news viewing area put everything aside to focus on bringing play to those who matter most… the children.


It took approximately 5 hours to build the structure and anyone who has ever built a playground realizes that it is no easy feat.   Side by side, volunteers including police officers and youth lifted steel decks and fastened slides and climbers, passing tools back and forth while getting to know one another.   The process of seeing each other as “equals” helps strengthen the ties of humanity; fostering a connection, building trust, dispelling myths and racial stereotypes   – that was the REAL impact that day.  Play 4 ALL realizes the process of healing will involve much more than what we were able to do on that day, but it’s a small step.  A step in the right direction.  People from all over St. Louis continue to bring their children to this playground to take photos.   News media crews followed the project and aired it on multiple news channels.

The Ferguson Community Center playground is the instrument that will continue to bring people to a common place, a place where everyone matters.  It was a collaborative gift by sectors that at one time were pitted against one another.   As we left that day, a young man turned around, looked at the playground and said – “now that is a beacon of hope and awesomeness.”   That statement was enough for us to say, let’s do this again… and again. 

If you know of a community interesting in a Healing Communities Through Play project, please contact Play 4 ALL.  Together we can engage the partners, mobilize the dollars and take a small step towards healing and togetherness.