Advocacy through Storytelling: Park Champions Are Making a Difference, One Event at a Time

By Rasmussen, Jayni | Parks & Recreation, December 2016 | Go to article overview

Advocacy through Storytelling: Park Champions Are Making a Difference, One Event at a Time


Rasmussen, Jayni, Parks & Recreation


Children from all corners of the world traveled to Bangor, Maine, this summer, united in their hopes of claiming a Senior Little League World Series title at the Shawn T. Mansfield Stadium. Many players and their families may not have known the story behind the namesake of the stadium, Shawn T. Mansfield. He was a Bangor child who loved baseball but, sadly, lost his battle with cerebral palsy and inspired Bangor resident and author Stephen King to donate the funds to build the stadium. It's likely that even fewer people know that Hayford Park, where Shawn T. Mansfield is located, was made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund's (LWCF) State Assistance program. Investments in Bangor's local park and recreation, both by members of the community and by our national community through forward-thinking conservation efforts like the LWCF, made it possible to bring the Senior Little League World Series to Bangor.

These stories were brought to light this summer by two dedicated NRPA Park Champions: Bangor Parks and Recreation Director Tracy Willette and Maine Recreation and Park Association Executive Director Deb Smith. They teamed up to bring U.S. Senator Susan Collins, U.S. Congressman Bruce Poliquin, and staff from U.S. Senator Angus King's office to speak during the opening ceremonies of the series. By inviting their members of Congress to participate in this event, Willette and Smith were able to share the stadium's history and its importance to the Bangor community and to demonstrate the importance of investing in local parks and recreation through federal legislation like LWCF.

In this tough political climate on Capitol Hill, it's critical that we get creative to ensure the future of parks and recreation. Fortunately, as park and recreation professionals and advocates, you are uniquely positioned to take an innovative approach to advocacy. Instead of relying on standard advocacy techniques, you have resources to draw on, such as beautiful parks, quality programming and a deep connection with your community. Sure, anyone can interact with their congressional offices with the occasional email. But, by inviting your members of Congress or their staff to see, first-hand, the essential services you provide, you can leave a lasting impression that will allow you to build a strong relationship with your federal elected officials and their staff year-round.

This powerful storytelling, show-and-tell method is exactly what's behind the Park Champion campaign, NRPA's signature grassroots advocacy initiative. It engages park and recreation professionals, park advocates and decisionmakers across the nation in park and recreation advocacy. Through webinars with expert guest speakers, comprehensive toolkits and staff on-hand, the Park Champion initiative is making it easy to bring Capitol Hill to a park near you.

In the second year of the initiative, Park Champions from across the county invited their members of Congress to exciting events they had already scheduled. Members of Congress and their staff, eager to get out of their offices and into the community to interact with constituents, jumped at the opportunity to attend events, ranging from park dedications to summer meal programs, in parks and community centers in their districts. …

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