Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Summer of Park

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Summer of Park

Article excerpt

A quick scan of Houston's Denver Harbor Community Center reveals not a single stoic face in the crowd. Smiles flash like fireworks across the room as Rep. Gene Green (TX-29), Mayor Annise Parker, Councilman Ed Gonzalez and Houston Parks and Recreation Director Joe Turner hand out boxed meals to a buzzing line of eager kids. A girl with long brown hair giggles, holding her lunch box up for the camera. A boy in a Batman shirt steals the show with a cheek-to-cheek grin, proudly munching on a ham sandwich after firmly planting himself at a table in the front that was probably meant for the adults.

It's a scene that event attendees are not likely to forget, especially knowing that every child in that room might otherwise go hungry if it weren't for the free, healthy meals provided as part of the summer meal program at Houston Parks and Recreation's Denver Harbor. Back in Washington, D.C., congressional staffers on Capitol Hill are busy drafting a bill that would reauthorize and fund child nutrition programs like the Summer Food Service Program, which reimburses sponsors, including parks and recreation agencies, for meals served to food-insecure children. Sure, few politicians would say outright that providing healthy meals to hungry, low-income children is a bad idea. Still, in a political climate where programs across the board face deep funding cuts, there really is nothing like seeing kids in their own communities enjoying a meal, socializing and playing in a safe environment, to convince a member of Congress that child nutrition programs are simply not expendable.

In NRPA's 50th year, we're leading the way by revamping our advocacy efforts and empowering members to be parks and recreation advocates from their home turf. Our newly enlisted Park Champions took up the task and ran with this new grassroots, show-and-tell advocacy model. From Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY-25) cruising around a Hilton-Parma, New York, park in an off-road vehicle to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) playing Jenga with the kids at the Heilman Recreation Center in Detroit, Michigan, to having stafffrom Rep. Tammy Duckworth's (NY-8) office, along with Rep. Elaine Nekritz (IL- 57) throw out the first pitch on Buffalo Grove, Illinois' new baseball field, our Park Champions are getting creative with amazing, diverse events all over the country this summer. It's a winning situation all around - park and recreation agencies get to show offtheir facilities and programs and members of Congress and their staffare loving the opportunity to get out from behind their desks and into parks and recreation centers to see first-hand how federal policies impact the communities they serve.

Thanks to the scores of NRPA members who took up the challenge, the Park Champion initiative is already an undeniable success, and the year isn't even over! There are three big pieces of parks and recreation legislation - the Land and Water Conservation Fund or LWCF, the Transportation Bill and the Child Nutrition Act - up for reauthorization this year, and we need members like you to take action by hosting your U.S. representative and/or U.S. senators at a Park Champion event. Be a part of this exciting new initiative by heading over to www.nrpa.org/park-champions to learn more, check out photos from past Park Champion events, access the Park Champion Advocacy Toolkit and sign the Park Champion pledge. Email Jayni Rasmussen, NRPA's advocacy and outreach specialist, at jrasmussen@nrpa. …

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