Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Lessons from the Road to Leadership

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Lessons from the Road to Leadership

Article excerpt

It seems like just yesterday that I was where many of you are today: a former program participant, summer employee and intern. Some of my peers and family laughed at the thought of studying parks and recreation management when I was a student. I remember being 21, a recent graduate, and going back home to Washington, D.C., seeking a career in the field. The park and recreation department did not have any vacancies, so I couldn't even begin to pursue a career in the field. Instead, I took a part-time job at the International Spy Museum just to pay the bills. I thought I had sacrificed my passion; in reality, I gained valuable experience in the hospitality and customer service industry.

Three months later, I interviewed for a recreation specialist position with the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). I was nervous, but I used the tools and skills gained as a student, including my internship portfolio showcasing my educational and work experience, to help me visually share my story, my passion and my drive for wanting the position. On the pan el of interviewers, the toughest person, who asked the most questions and made me sweat, became one of the best mentors and friends I have to this day. Sometimes people are hard on us because they see something in us that we don't see within ourselves.

The Entry and the Climb

Once hired, I immediately took advantage of every opportunity presented to me. My first mentor, a DPR employee, was one of the first to believe in me as a leader, not just in parks and recreation but in life. With her encouragement, I attended my first NRPA Congress in 2006. I had no idea how much of an effect attending this conference would have on my passion, growth and development as a professional. My experiences from that conference drove my commitment to being a better professional and to gain experiences outside of my normal scope of practice. That year, I made a personal commitment and adopted the motto, "Be the change that I want to see."

Be the Change

I returned to Washington, D.C., with a renewed energy and passion for wanting to do more, be more, give more and someday create a legacy in parks and recreation. I tapped into the network of professionals that I met to create, enhance and implement programs and special events much different from the norm. I began to gain the respect of veteran professionals within my agency. In 2007, I was recognized by the National Recreation and Park Ethnic Minority Society (NRPEMS) and also was a recipient of the Young Professional Fellowship, which allowed me to shadow one of NRPA's former executive directors. Attaining such honors further propelled my drive, my understanding of professional involvement, and my passion to continue to be active. As a "newbie," I was coached and mentored to a level that I didn't fully understand at the time. I thought that my image would affect my advancement, so I slowly changed the company that I kept, the way that I showed up, the way that I dressed, the way that I spoke and the way that I thought. I remained engaged in national and local networking through meetings, attending and presenting at conferences and by serving on committees. I learned to ask questions to assist with my lack of awareness and also to embrace being uncomfortable! …

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