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Parks and recreation steps out of traditional role.

City departments of parks and recreation play an important, if underappreciated, role in improving outcomes for children and families.

During NLC's National Summit on Your City's Families, held this fall in San Antonio, parks and recreation officials talked about how they are moving beyond their departments' traditional roles to help their communities address a range of problems in areas from education to preventing youth violence and crime.

Dock Jackson, Jr., director of parks and recreation in Elgin, Texas, said that parks and recreation programs can bring "endless benefits" to a community--for example, by serving as a magnet for economic development.

"The number-one factor for executives in deciding where to locate their companies is quality of life," he said. He identified schools, parks and recreation programs, and libraries as the top quality-of-life concerns.

Parks and recreation is about "more than just softball leagues," added Jackson, who also serves as a city councilman in Bastrop, Texas, and as a member of NLC's Council on Youth, Education, and Families.

As an example, he noted the High Adventure Program in Austin, Texas, which engages at-risk teens from local schools in five weeks of challenging activities, including spelunking, canoeing and camping. The Austin Parks and Recreation Department also organizes "Totally Cool, Totally Art," a nationally recognized afterschool program that gets students involved in directing videos, sculpting plaster, creating computer graphics, drawing comic books and more.

Also offering her perspective on the role of parks and recreation departments was Tiffany Flowers of the Department of Leisure Services in Las Vegas.

The department recently became a partner with the National Institutes of Health in a nationwide initiative aimed at combating child obesity. Called "We Can!," the program provides resources and information to help communities encourage healthy eating, increase physical activity and reduce sedentary time.

Southern Nevada is one of 13 sites across the country participating in the program. Working closely with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the Parks and Recreation Department for the City of Henderson, Las Vegas's Department of Leisure Services is organizing free classes, youth programs and community events to promote healthy lifestyles for kids.

Linda Hodge, assistant director of the parks and recreation department in Corpus Christi, Texas, referred to recreation as "the fourth 'r' for education."

She said recreation programs can work closely with schools to develop student skills with games and activities oriented around math, reading or science.

In Corpus Christi, the Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for an array of initiatives, from standard sports and exercise programs to the local Weed and Seed effort and a youth nutrition program. Parks and Recreation also is home to the city's Commission on Children and Youth, and the city is developing a youth commission that will operate under the department.

In addition to local funding, Corpus Christi has secured grants from a variety of state and federal government sources, including the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, to support Parks and Recreation activities.

"We don't do all of this ourselves," Hodge noted, pointing out that the department distributes some state crime control funds to local agencies. "We want to nurture other people to come in and take these things on."

Hodge said recreation programs can play an important part in a community's efforts to help children and families succeed. "We are less expensive than intervention--and much more healthy," she said.
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Title Annotation:government agencies helps communities resolve problems relating to eduction, voilence, and crime
Author:Woodwell, William H., Jr.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Nov 14, 2005
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