Meeting the Fitness Needs of the Inner City

Article excerpt

Today, more than ever, faced with dwindling budgets, municipalities struggle to meet the needs of their constituents. Inner cities are especially hard hit. Using partnerships to develop programming is quick becoming the solution for recreation departments threatened by budget cuts. In New Britain, Connecticut, pioneering partnerships have become the salvation for developing and expanding fitness programs.

New Britain, a city located in the center of Connecticut, is a two-hour drive from New York City and Boston. Serving a population of more than 75,000, the parks and recreation department manages five outdoor pools, 1,200 acres of park land, a 4,600-seat baseball stadium and a 9,000-seat football, soccer and track complex. New Britain is the professional home of the Connecticut United Soccer Wolves and AA New Britain Red Sox Baseball Team. Each year, 75,000 rounds are played at its 27-hole golf course. More than 50 outdoor concerts are scheduled yearly at a recently refurbished music shell and amphitheater.

Additionally, the parks and recreation department issues thousands of permits each year for numerous baseball, softball, basketball, soccer, football and cricket fields. Parks maintenance, recreation, golf, community services and park police support staff--57 full-time and 200 part-time and seasonal employees--make up the New Britain Parks and Recreation Department.

In 1984, New Britain's recreation community was fragmented into several social services agencies, including Family Services, YMCA, YWCA, Boys Club and a variety of counseling agencies. Cooperative ventures between agencies were limited. Each agency seemed defined by the constituency it served. Having few faithful followers, the parks and recreation department was cast in the role of "new kid on the block." Although parks were plentiful, no community center existed in which to hold public programs. Municipal recreational activities were limited; playgrounds were unstructured and pools were in disrepair. New Britain, once the "hardware capital" of the world, faced a troubled economy due to lost industry and very little new development. Compounded by the social ills of an urban setting, New Britain battled drugs and crime and an increasing population of low-income families. This was the setting for a challenge to create public parks and recreation opportunities.

The department set to work on a master study, targeting a group composed of those not currently serviced, those forgotten or fallen through the cracks and those showing the greatest need for programming. Groups identified were: youth, the disadvantaged and people with disabilities. An assessment of interests in New Britain showed support of sports and fitness programs. Baseball, softball basketball and football leagues already in existence, using 1,200 acres of park land and fields, thrived. The department decided that expanding sports and fitness programming was the best way to reach the target groups.

Lacking sufficient funds and facilities, and cautious to avoid duplicating services, the department reached beyond its budget restrictions and standard procedure. This was the dawning of the age of partnerships for the New Britain Parks and Recreation Department. Buoyed by Webster's definition of partnership: "the association of two or more in any joint interest," the department began its pursuit of joint ventures with other agencies.

Several categories of partnerships exist: business, school, nonprofit, civic and private. Included in these are endless possibilities. It is vital to establish an ongoing relationship within the network of each. In many cases, these networks overlap. An important thing to keep in mind: departmental image is vital when making an approach. The entire department's staff, from director to office clerk, must be aware of this at all times. Essential to any partnership is a proposal that includes a benefit for the prospective sponsor. …