Winter-Spring 2002

Parks and Recreation LAPs Are "Connected" for the Future
by Pam Earle and Cathy Matheson

National Parks and Recreation AssociationParks and Recreation Services are naturally positioned to become local technology centers. Parks and Recreation department services have historically been mandated to meet the social, physical, and educational needs of citizens. Through building the physical structures and the opportunities to bring community together, Parks and Rec has fostered community pride, and created relationships that help sustain vital, healthy communities. It is here where we have established cultural, social, and educational places where our community comes together.

Parks and Recreation departments are masters in creating successful partnerships to achieve mutual gain. Be it a partnership between a non-profit and education organization, a partnership between government and a corporation, leisure professionals know how to develop key win-win relationships. For many years, they have struggled to increase their services with fewer financial resources. Even faced with the challenges of "doing more with less," Parks and Recreation departments serve more children during after school hours than any other local agency. They are known as the places where people "cluster." They are safe, welcoming, and nurturing environments for people of all ages, cultures and abilities.

Parks and Recreation Department Centers are perfect sponsors for LAPs because they're open long hours and provide community resources that include day-care services, volunteers and volunteer infrastructure, and access to information and technology that might not be available and affordable elsewhere.

As Andrew Cohill, President of the Association for Community Networking, put it: "Just as recreation centers and parks create gathering places for community residents of all ages, community-wide networks create online gathering places, and the intersection of these two mediums (physical and virtual) creates great opportunities — for technology centers, for learning centers, for technology fairs, community networked offices, and other creative uses."

The National Recreation and Park Association is taking a lead in encouraging the development of public access to technology at Parks and Recreation sites. The NRPA represents over 24,000 citizens and professionals in 5,000 or more communities around the country. There is great opportunity for public Parks and Recreation to add value to existing services through technology based programs and for the public to enjoy the added benefit of connecting with their community in new ways. We are not surprised to see Parks and Recreation programs and staff emerging as leaders in creating the foundation for new and sustainable "local access places."

The following are some examples of Parks and Recreation based programs that represent successful models, as reported by those who staff and work at them.

Public Recreation in Largo, Florida

Technology is creating a shift in the recreation programming paradigm with intergenerational applications of computer training through public recreation in Largo. The many requests about where senior citizens could learn to use computers led our staff to develop a partnership at the Community Center with the city's Recreation, Parks and Arts Department, the Pinellas County Technical Education Center (PTEC), and a private computer education company (that has since gone out of business.) The Community Center offered space and furniture, and scheduling, accounting and advertising services as well as youth members to serve as computer mentors for seniors. PTEC offered the loan and up-keep of 14 state-of-the-art computer systems and trained instructors. The computer education company supplied workbooks and a large collection of interactive, learn-on-your-own programs for various software applications.

The program objectives were designed to create increased mutual esteem for the generations involved through educational interaction; e-mail was actually the number one reason and stimulus motivating senior citizens to learn to use the computer.

Begun in January, 2000, the program became an immediate success because of a well done human interest story published in our regional newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times. In fact, the Largo Community Center was forced by demand to triple the number of course offerings which filled up for the next six months by the end of that January!

Currently, the Largo Community Center is developing a partnership with a local medical facility to create personal home computer applications for physical fitness, dietary, and other wellness management and monitoring issues for use with our patrons. As our elder population has become more confident in their use of new technologies they are helping to define for recreation practitioners those applications best suited to their needs and abilities. The Center is in the process of remodeling space in order to facilitate higher speed Internet connectivity and develop digital photography, voice and digitized music programs and an area for paper craft creations such as birthday cards, flyers, origami, and posters.

Through the use of technology, the relevance of our Community Center programming is being redefined to better suit the needs of today's public recreation patrons. — Michael Whelan


City of North Miami Beach, Florida
At the North Miami Beach Youth Center with Ella Tavares, Nathaniel Flores, Oscar Bilini, Clarissa Jiminian, Phillip Cheron, Eric Aljure, Tatyana Cheron.

The City of North Miami Beach, Florida, completed the renovation for youth center in July 1999 with infrastructure for a future computer lab. Monies became available through a grant six months later and, with the assistance of the city's Information Technology Department, 12 computers with web cameras, headphones, and a full array of software were purchased and installed.

The lab is open daily under supervision by a computer teacher. Children do homework, email friends and family, play games, take pictures, make holiday theme cards, and receive one on one instruction. They line up to use the lab and it is rare to see an empty seat. In fact, the children have time limits when others are waiting.

Classes for senior citizens held in the morning have proven to be a popular program, with email to their families being the number one priority interest. These are highly successful programs, especially for those in the area who do not have computers in their home. — Harriett Orr

Library and Recreation Services in Aurora, Colorado

When the Moorhead Recreation Center in North Aurora, Colorado, held an ice cream social in 1999, participants completed a "60 second survey" identifying what they would like to see in this low-income area of the city. One of the top five items for both youth and adults was "library services." It was the number one priority for youth.

Based on this assessment, a branch library learning center was created by renovating an old office and an adjacent closet through a Community Development Block grant. Jointly developed with Recreation and Library staff, the center was initially set up with three computers, providing access to the library online system and the Internet, and a small collection of books and tapes, some in Spanish. Patrons can check out books, request materials from other libraries and pick them up at Moorehead, and they can type resumes, search the web, and perform other computer activities. Last year the Colorado Library Association gave the Moorhead Library Learning Center an award for "best outreach to diverse populations." And thanks to a Gates Foundation grant, Moorhead was the recipient of four state of the art replacement computers loaded with educational software for children and adults.

In March of 2001, a small grant from Parks and Recreation for People was obtained to support a volunteer teen library team to staff the center and encourage its use, especially by youth. "LibTeens" (the name chosen by the group) take turns staffing the library learning center every afternoon, check material in and out and help users on the computers.

We have begun having preschool story and craft times at the Recreation Center for parents and toddlers, scheduled immediately after parents drop off older children at the school across the street. Recreation and Library staff work together to set up snacks, crafts, and conduct the story time sessions. Fifteen to twenty people attend them weekly. — Katherine Nelson

Technology, Recreation and Learning Centers in the City of New York/Parks & Recreation

City of NY Parks and RecreationIn the Computer Resource Centers (CRC) Program, we incorporate technology directly into recreational programming — mainly sports — building a strong recreation/education partnership. Our students write stories about their favorite players and conduct research on their favorite sports. Our curriculum introduces children to educational technology resources in a fun and approachable way.

We recently began posting our most successful lesson plans on the CRC electronic curricula section of Hotshot Animation is a storytelling and art project where children create a "digital flip book" by stringing images together in a PowerPoint slide show, an exemplary project because children learn a useful software application while doing a creative activity that they enjoy. In the Partners Project, children team up to represent their partners on posters, using a digital camera and design tools. Displaying students' work and photographs in the classroom is a great way to warm up the room and make newcomers feel welcome in the beginning of any class cycle. (It is also helpful to teachers who have to memorize lots of new names in the beginning of the school year.)

Both activities are popular because of their adaptability to various age groups. Anyone can contribute to a simple slide show, and variations can be developed as appropriate. I have used variations of the partners project with adults. In our desktop publishing classes, adults present images that they have edited next to descriptions of their individual editing processes. This reinforces their skills and makes them feel proud of their new abilities. It is also an easy way for adults to swap editing tricks and share new skills. — Ariel Behr

Red Mountain Multigenerational Center in Mesa, Arizona


Red Mountain Multigenerational Center 
        in Mesa, Arizona
Red Mountain Multigenerational Center in Mesa, Arizona

The Mesa Red Mountain Multigenerational Center, or "MG" as nicknamed by local youth, is a multi-use 65,000+ square foot Parks and Recreation facility that includes a gym, climbing wall, fitness center and walking track. Six classrooms are programmed for special interest classes and a large dividable hall is used for ongoing recreation programs as well as rentals and special events. Mesa Senior Services, Inc., operates programs from 8am to 5pm weekdays. The center also houses Sirrine Adult Day Health Care, a vital service for families with frail elderly.

Along with these programs and amenities an additional, distinctive partnership was developed to meet the ever-growing demand for community access to computer technology. Beginning in April 1999, City Parks and Recreation staff and representatives from Mesa Community College at Red Mountain (MCC) began discussing their educational and recreational technology objectives and programming needs and found they were very much in line with each other. MCC wanted to develop courses that would appeal to the community. The classes offered would be developed based on feedback from participants and public surveys. Since the partnership developed towards the end of construction of the center, an existing classroom was retrofitted and has 16 student workstations and an instructor station with projector and screen.

The partnership has been operating for nearly three years with all classes and activities, initially targeted for adults and seniors, filled to capacity. Courses cover introduction to the Internet, basics of common desktop programs, and workshops designed for first time computer users. There are 15 to 20 hours per week of free lab time that are open to the public.

During the summer of 2001 drop-in programs were implemented for kids. An unexpected intergenerational program developed from youth participant interest in digital photography and desktop publishing. Senior participants have been interviewed by youth and highlighted in the multigenerational center newsletter that will be further developed in 2002 along with planning for specialty camps and enhanced intergenerational drop-in programs. Most of the credit for the success of the Red Mountain Multigenerational Center computer lab goes to staff and administrators of Mesa Community College who have made a firm and positive commitment to developing community education and technology access opportunities. — Paul Widman

The University Park CTC in Portland, Oregon

The University Park Computer Technology Center, located in the largest public housing project in Portland, is a partnership between Portland Parks and Recreation and the Intel Foundation. Our computer classes are available to everyone, regardless of age or skill level. Our curriculum and programs include everything from typing, Internet basics, and using educational games such as math in the real world to video/audio creation, photo design, Lego robotics, computer building, and web design.

We have a crew of youth who have been working on creating videos and music to add to them. We are venturing out with web cams and live broadcasting of events in the local neighborhood. We offer a variety of programs for elementary and middle school students, and a laptop program for youth who are heading off to college that requires them to keep up their grade point average and work with the community center on a regular basis.

At University Park we are thinking of new services to offer the community, including starting a business where youth can design and offer web hosting to local businesses. We are also looking for more volunteers and mentors so we can accommodate more people. Please visit to keep updated on the projects and programs we are offering. — Farnell Newton

Pam Earle is the National Parks and Recreation Association Regional Director of the Pacific Service Center; Cathy Matheson is Marketing Director for Class Software Solutions.

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