Magazine article Parks & Recreation

When the Stars Align: Finding Celebrities to Promote Your Messages

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

When the Stars Align: Finding Celebrities to Promote Your Messages

Article excerpt

WHEN Recreation Services Manager Mick Calarco from Carlsbad (California) Parks & Recreation began thinking about whom he could contact about promoting a sportsmanship program in his city called T.R.U.S.T. (Teaching Respect, Unity, and Sportsmanship through Teamwork), he knew he wanted a professional athlete that would make people take notice.

He says, "I wanted to create a video with a little hook and somehow tie sportsmanship to a locally well-known or nationally well known person. I thought it would be significant for the city."

He began reaching out to sports stars like Tony Hawk and Shaun White, both from the nearby San Diego area, hoping they'd want to help the Carlsbad community. Calarco says it didn't work out, but he didn't give up and continued to "cultivate contacts" when he could.

Eventually in 2009, one of Calarco's staff members revealed he knew someone who was in contact with NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton. Calarco wrote a letter to the contact explaining the program, but admits he thought it was a bit of a longshot.

"We knew Bill does a lot for the community, and sure enough he was responsive to our request," says Calarco. "And he was more than willing to do whatever we needed."

Calarco and his team worked with Walton to shoot hours of footage that eventually became the T.R.U.S.T. video. "He became our spokesperson and really did drive a good sportsmanship message home," explains Calarco. "He was great for the cause."

In today's tough economic climate, using a familiar face like Walton's may be a great way to engage your community with parks and recreation. According to Jon Kirk Mukri, general manager of the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, finding creative ways to highlight the benefits of parks and recreation is increasingly important.

"We provide the most social services in the world--the youngest child

and the oldest adult all use parks and recreation," he says. "We need to bring that into focus." And a local or national celebrity can be just the one who's needed to direct his or her spotlight on a program or park.

Look in your own solar system

Working with well-known faces to promote parks and recreation doesn't always mean enlisting Hall of Famers. Many times, someone "famous" in your community won't be known to anyone outside your own town or city. Or, it may not be a someone at all.

That was the case in Chandler, Arizona, when Information Specialist Liam O'Mahony enlisted the help of a gorilla, a bobcat, and a cow, and had huge success. Last fall, the City of Chandler Recreation Division partnered with for the city's Day of Play event. Even though Chandler hosted the event, by bringing in a partner non-profit that had connections, the city was able to add a "mascot Olympics" with the Phoenix Suns Gorilla, the Arizona Diamondbacks Baxter the Bobcat, and even the Chick-Fil-A Cow. The event drew more than 4,000 people.


"The mascots made a great visual story and are such headline grabbers," says O'Mahony. "We didn't have those existing relationships with the pro teams, but they were able to come and represent our event through the partnership with Shape Up"

Nearby sports teams seem to be a great place to enlist talent that believes in recreation and will help promote parks and sports programming.

Los Angeles' Mukri says that his department has regularly used pro athletes to add some star power to a program or park. In 2008, the L.A. Dodgers organization committed to renovating 50 baseball fields in and around Los Angeles as part of the club's 50th anniversary. Mukri also worked with the soccer club Chivas USA to involve the organization in L.A. parks. Through the "Kick It in the Parks" program, the stars and coaches of the team came out to hold soccer clinics and games for the youth of the city. …

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