Friday, August 16, 2019

Creating Memorable Experenices

“My job is to create experiences”.  Debra Foster, Carver Center, Program Specialist I-- Loudoun County Parks, Recreation and Community Services (PRCS)

Creating Memorable Experiences for Your Senior Program Patrons

Adriana Carr, MPA, CPRP
Senior Resource Group Co-Chair Elect 2019
Lee Senior Center Director
Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation

Instead of looking at how you provide good customer service, think about how you might develop meaningful experiences with your programming.  I will explain. Look through job sites such as CareerBuilder, Indeed and for customer service jobs and you will come across such titles as Customer Experience Manager, Customer Experience Specialist or Customer Experience Director.  Customer service, as a field, has evolved.  Now companies want to know how you feel about their product.  They want to make your purchase decisions easy.  They want to keep you.  So instead of looking to improve customer service, many companies have moved forward with the goal of creating a great customer experience.  Two examples I can think of are shopping at Wegmans or going to a theme park such as Disney World.

This approach is also relevant to those of us who are recreation professionals and work with older adults.  With increased competition from local library systems, post-secondary institutions, senior living communities, mall and meet-ups, to name a few, it is crucial that we find a way to differentiate ourselves.  The way to highlight the important services and programs we offer is to create experiences for our patrons.  There is a lot of value in what we do every day. Let me tell you about four amazing ways to bolster customer experience.

A robust travel program is always going to add value to your offerings.  Here in Arlington, trips were the first programs in the history of Arlington Senior Programs.  Devoting as much time as you can to developing a schedule of interesting places is going to be worth your while.  If you are a one-person operation or even two or three, it can be challenging.  It’s not insuperable however, because our own Senior Resource Group Chair - Cheryl Wheeler and Member at Large - June Snead brought a Trips and Tours Workshop to Berryville, VA.  Attendees learned the basics of planning quality trips from experts in the Travel and Tourism industry.  If you were not able to attend, please contact Cheryl for additional information. 

Offering a Senior Citizen Police Academy is one way to strengthen the connection between you and your community.  A Citizens Police academy, which is usually offered to the general adult population, can be repurposed to give older adults the same educational experience. Tammy Caldwell Supervisor of Senior and Special Populations of the Christiansburg Department of Parks and Recreation in Partnership with Officer Phillip Townley of the Montgomery County Police Department designed and implemented a successful one.  To find out how you can bring a similar program to your jurisdiction, plan to attend the Senior Police Academy session at the Senior Resource Group Conference this coming October or send a message to Tammy.

Camps. They aren’t just for kids anymore. Our Senior Resource Group Chair - Cheryl Wheeler and her fine colleagues at Loudoun County Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services took the camp concept and adapted it to the preferences and interest of adults.  Participants hiked, took part in educational and experiential sessions.  This program is in its fourth year and it continues to grow.  To learn how you can plan and implement a camp for older adults contact Cheryl Wheeler.
You should also check out Kathy Blevins (Mature Adult Recreation Programmer) of Vienna Parks and Recreation.  Her program was featured in the NRPA Healthy Aging in Parks blog. Learn how she and her team builds big community in a small town by creating vital connections and valuable experiences. Check out their Mature Adult Adventure Camp.  I am certain it is quite successful.

A good experience always leads to a strong relationship with your customers.  Who better to create a superior customer experience than a parks and recreation professional?

Tell us about your process of creating positive experiences for your customers. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Telling the Story of your Senior Programs with Data

“Analytics – The science of using data to build models that leads to better decisions that in turn add value to individuals, companies and institutions”.  Dimitris Bertsimas.

Telling the Story of Your Senior Programs with Data

Adriana Carr, MPA, CPRP
Senior Resource Group Co-Chair Elect 2019
Lee Senior Center Director
Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation

As a recreation professional working with older adults, you know two things for certain.  One, there had better be coffee ready and two you can always count on real time feedback from your core patrons.  When it comes time to turn in your quarterly reports that track attendance or the program evaluation results on customer satisfaction surveys or volunteer hours, to name a few; do you often think to yourself:  what am I doing this for? Does it go anywhere? How am I supposed to fit this in with everything else?  Do I really need this to see how I am doing?

I know I know...what’s with all the questions?  Sure, we all know that the data we provide at the hands-on service level helps the folks who make the decisions about the organization’s direction but collecting data and tracking it can also help you with your programming decision.  It’s called data analytics and it can make your job more effective, successful and, yes, less stressful.

For the next few months I have been assigned the task of compiling the data that is produced by the senior centers in the organization I work for.  It has been very interesting to see how that data turns into information that tells a story.    Additionally, the information derived from that data  it’s so objective that the next steps are clear.  Some of the data is mine; from my programs.  While I would enter the raw data and go back to analyze it; somehow seeing those same numbers presented differently is more insightful.  Before you pass that data on, take a minute to really look at it.

In the field of data analytics there are models that can tell you what happened in the past and then there are models that can help use data to plan for the future.  That is where we should focus our efforts: on the future. Because in our field, the landscape is changing rapidly.  For example, the data in the center I manage showsthat patrons  are no longer coming for one program and then heading home.  A significant number are starting to stay longer.  Many are without family nearby or have no family at all. Several have recently retired and are looking for a place to go on a regular basis. So when I tell the story of the center I talk about a place that people say feels like home. 

We all know about the research pointing to the negative effects of loneliness on older adults and the prevalence of older adult orphans. To build up on that feeling and foster community engagement, look to your data.  It offers a clear path and ability to make objective, impactful program decisions. 

How do you use data to plan for your program’s future?  Let us know.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Take the Challenge: Get out of your Comfort Zone to Stay Inspired

by Adriana Carr, MPA
Director, Lee Senior Center
Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation
2019 VRPS Senior Resource Group Co-Chair Elect

“When you go out of your comfort zone and it works; there’s nothing more satisfying.” Kristen Wiig

Around the start of a new year, there are always a bunch of challenges promoted by a variety of people. Most are related to fitness but I have been a on quest to jump start my planning and programming.  I decided to challenge myself to learn from other creative fields.  Here is what happened:

I recently took a course from a friend of mine who has an event planning business.  About 40% of my work involves planning small scale events such as talent shows, holiday parties and the other 60% of my time is focused on creating experiences for older adults who come to the community center I work in.   Creating a positive experience is the goal of any event whether it’s a party, conference, show or workshop.  Additionally, my friend is an excellent teacher and is well established in her field.  So, I registered for her online course: Goal setting for the Enlightened Creative.   During the workshop she encourages her students to get out of their comfort zones and find new ways to grow professionally. I decided to give it a try.

I had been thinking about starting a drum circle in the senior center where I am the director.  Initially I felt uncomfortable about organizing this sort of activity.  It was certainly out of my comfort zone.  Here’s why.  When I thought of drum circles I envisioned young (under 30) bohemian types --or hippies-- engaged in rhythmic and frenetic drumming and dancing.  Never mind that the original hippies are rapidly becoming my customers.   Never mind that drum circles exist in a variety of senior programs around the country. Never mind that Cheryl Wheeler (the 2019 SRG chair) suggested it as a workshop for last year’s conference and our Board Liaison Jane Shelhorse knew someone who lead drum circle!  I still wasn’t convinced. 

I wasn’t convinced that a drum circle would garner any interest from the participants that came to the Lee Senior Center.  I didn’t see them as the sort of people who would enjoy being in a drum circle.  But that bias rapidly dispatched at the VRPS 2018 conference in Henrico.  I was sitting in one of the rooms learning about a great neighborhood revitalization project in Danville, VA.  In the room next to us was a session on an improv fest for teens in Loudon County.  They were very noisy and they were having lots of fun!  The adults in the room were having lots of fun.   Making noise is quite fun. The little lights started twinkling in my brain; maybe a drum circle would work.

I approached a gentleman who loves music and had been trying to get his own band going.  However, I wasn’t completely sure, if he would be interested.  Nonetheless I asked him if he would think about starting a drum circle program.  We talked about it and even got a small focus group together to help develop the program.  I am happy to report that it’s working out well.  The participants who attend are having a great time.  The volunteer dance instructors send some their rhythm challenged dancers to the drumming session for extra help and the drum circle leader has even been asked to talk to other groups about the benefits of drumming.  This program hasn’t even been officially promoted and it continues to grow.  It’s exciting!

This small foray out of my comfort zone affirmed several things.  The first is that being part of VRPS and SRG is pivotal to my career and personal development.  The second is nothing is more constricting to your career than self- doubt. For example, after many months of hesitation, I took the CPRP test and passed!  I muscled past the self-doubt.  The third benefit is that looking to other industries sparks innovation on an individual and general level.  Because when your day to day tasks are geared to producing positive experiences for the community, do not put limits on your creativity.

Have a question, comment or want to blog with us?  Contact the Senior Resource Group:

Cheryl Wheeler, CPRP - 2019 chair
LaTanja Jones, 2019 co-chair elect
Adriana Carr, 2019 co-chair elect
Judith Mangilin, Treasurer

Monday, March 19, 2018

Building Community in Shenandoah County

by Adriana Carr, MPA
Director, Lee Senior Center
Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation
2018 VRPS Senior Resource Group Chair

“To be happy in this world, especially when youth is past, it is necessary to feel oneself not merely an isolated individual whose day will soon be over, but part of the stream of life flowing on from the first germ to the remote and unknown future.”
Bertrand Russell 

I am certain we all agree that 99% of our work is involved in developing programs that bring people together. Something we all know is that quality of life is vastly improved when a person has the support of others, friends and professional providers. That’s why we read, brainstorm, attend conferences and network with each other -- to foster social connectedness for our customers. 

Social isolation and its effects on older adults has captured the attention of researchers and some advocacy groups. The most recent issue of The Gerontological Society of America’s Public Policy & Aging Report focuses on that topic. Loneliness increases the potential for health risks. To address this issue, AARP created Connect2Affect. This initiative draws on the research on social connectedness to create solutions and programs to address this public health issue. 

If you work in an urban or suburban setting there are challenges to supporting social connectedness. Transportation, language and disability are some of the barriers that still keep older adults from socializing with others. For older adults living in rural areas the risks increase. 

That is why we need to connect and learn from our Senior Resource Group colleagues who work in the rural parts of our state. Their creativity, passion and inventiveness is inspiring. 

Meet Teresa Funkhouser. She is the Senior Services Program Supervisor for the Department of Parks and Recreation in Shenandoah County. One of her primary responsibilities is managing the Active Adult Fellowship meetings, trips and programs for the active adult crowd. Building community, bringing people together through a common interest is pivotal to combatting social isolation in older adult.

Held throughout Shenandoah County, these events vary. Sometimes they include a museum tour, other meetings might involve a community service project. Often members lead presentations on trips, hobbies or topics of general interest.

Teresa has been a member of the Senior Resource Group and Virginia Parks and Recreation Society for nine years. Prior to working for Shenandoah County Parks and Rec, Teresa was a license insurance agent and customer service representative. Developing recreation programs for older adults is her encore career. “I have always loved the older generations and feel we can learn so much from them. I get great joy seeing them having a good time at our programs” Teresa tells me.

Her population is most likely going to change in the next several years. Demographic trends are showing that older adults and retirees tend to move to areas that offer a lower cost of living and beautiful scenery. These retirees are often active and engaged in their communities. If they move to Shenandoah Valley, they should contact Teresa for additional information.

Meeting and working with Teresa has been an honor. Her passion for working with older adults is palpable. How do you build community? We’d like to know.


Monday, February 5, 2018

It's a New Year

Director of Aquatics
Town of Christiansburg
Past VRPS Leadership Training Institute (LTI) Attendee
2018 LTI Committee Member

It is a new year, time to reflect on past accomplishments and plan new goals for our careers. 

For many of us, this may be the year to reach outside of our comfort zone, do something that is not our typical behavior.  In 2014, I took the step and set off to develop my leadership skills with my peers.  Sure, I was attending yearly conferences and keeping up with CEU’s but the thought of spending a couple of days on top of a mountain with people I did not know was pretty much, a little intimidating.  I can remember thinking; my career is going pretty good, I achieved the ultimate opportunity of directing an aquatic facility from the bottom up, could there really be anymore?   Boy, was there more! 

It was time to attend a leadership training like no other.  That spring, up high on a mountain top, I attended LTI.  Needless to say what I thought was going to be a couple of days in a typical recreation setting became the emotional trigger I needed to remind myself why I was in the field.   

Witnessing first-hand 60 professionals just like myself stepping outside their comfort zone to earn their leadership credentials was amazing.  From team building to more team building, to connecting with some of the best leadership speakers, I was in!  What was happening?  Not only did I want to be part of the team, I was amazed how easy it was.  Everyone was happy, rejuvenated and a TEAM, so unbelievable that explaining would never do the program justice.  We became one, a group of individuals seeking out the passion that was deep inside.  For a short time we shut out the stress of our daily routines to seek the next level within.  No negative thoughts, just time to build ourselves into the best possible leader in our field.   Could it be possible that the serenity of those two days surrounded by the beauty of nature would rejuvenate my career and give spark to the internal flame of Parks and Recreation?  After all, this was my passion!     

You bet it did!  Immediately, I knew the next goal was to serve on the LTI committee.  While serving the past four years, I have witnessed your LTI committee continue to reach far beyond to bring you the best recreational leadership training possible.  The serenity on top of Wintergreen Mountain is likely impossible to replace and the camaraderie of the team will fuel your energy to be the best that you can be, not only in your field but during this short time we have been given to “live”! 

Take the LTI opportunity now, it is time…you will not be disappointed!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Senior Exercise Group in Verse

Parks and Recreation Director
South Boston, Virginia


Who are these people so energetic, vibrant, loving and seemingly
without a care, who greet and hug me as if was a teddy bear.

 Smiles, Hugs/handshakes going everywhere who are these
people who greet you, and actually happy that you are there.

 How are you, where have you been, glad you are better, and welcome back my friend.

The Recreation Center has become a church without a steeple,
 and through the doors come so many good people.

Some walk and talk, while others walk and silently pray for whatever
it is they need today.

 Weights clatter, and the users fill the weight room with gleeful chatter, and some gather just to hear the silly things that Seymour will say.

 And for the Lazy one’s Ms. Mitch will lovingly say, you ain’t done nothing today at least walk a few laps before you sit
down or go in there to play.
 Exercising is never a bore, while some walk others play cornhole
 in the middle of the floor. And our pool player’s men and women all pair up to play, and that’s where they spend most of their day.
 In their own time, and in their own way these adults have become children again as they laugh and play.

And I just do my best to be helpful and to stay out of their way.

Monday, December 18, 2017

LTI Testimonial - Kristen Hamill, CPRP

Recreation Program Supervisor
Newport News Parks, Recreation and Tourism
Past VRPS Leadership Training Institute (LTI) Co-Chair
2018 LTI Committee Member

In 2010 my supervisor encouraged me to attend LTI.  I decided to attend and loved every minute of my time on the mountain.  I met many new people in our field and was able to learn many different team building skills and different ways to lead.  I had so much fun I attended again in 2012 and then decided I would like to serve on the committee.  I was accepted as a member of the planning committee and have been involved in the 2014, 2016 and now the 2018 institute.  I have served as secretary and co-chair during my time on the committee.  During my time on the committee I was promoted twice at work.  If you have ever wondered if attending LTI would help you have better chances at promotions, I feel I am an example that it can.  LTI is a great opportunity to meet new people and learn about yourself and your style of leading.  If you are debating attending the 2018 institute, I highly recommend it.