Public recreation centers can contribute a great deal to the health of
a community or a neighborhood.
They offer us a means to relax and to renew ourselves physically. Indeed,
for many people -- the poor, the disabled -- public recreation centers are
often the only places through which they can participate in sports and other
forms of recreation.
And the local recreation center is more than just a place where we can
go for a swim or to shoot some hoops. In many communities, it is the social
and cultural focal point, a place to meet friends and neighbors while waiting
for the curtain to the school play to go up.
Unfortunately, public recreation centers do not often get the financial
support they might deserve if you consider the impact they can have on the
physical, mental and social health of a community or neighborhood. Not surprisingly,
administrators at recreation centers across North America are looking for
volunteers to fill the gaps.
Val Mayes is one of those administrators. She is the program coordinator
at an aquatic and recreation center. She says volunteers are "extremely important.
They add a dimension to the program that allows us to do things that we wouldn't
be able to do," she says.
For instance, the volunteers at Mayes' center help the paid staff run programs.
They also help out with administrative duties. At other facilities, they may
even run programs themselves.
Simply put, volunteers are found in almost all areas. And the experiences
and contacts that they gain are often invaluable down the road, especially
if they want to pursue careers in recreation.
After a string of low-paying jobs in the service industry, Norma Rodenburg
decided to volunteer at her local recreation center. There, she helped run
a couple of day camps for teenagers with mental disabilities.
She was nervous at first because she didn't know how to communicate with
the teenagers, who were at the same development stage as little kids.
"At the beginning of the week, I didn't want to tell people what to do,"
she says. "I always felt that I should just let them be."
But Rodenburg eventually found her footing. By the end of her volunteer
stint, she had made several friends. She had also made a difference.
"Some of them come in really quiet. And they come out very confident. We
talked to one girl who said that when she is in a regular school, she always
feels like she is at the bottom of the pile. But when she came to this camp,
she felt that she was one of the leaders in the camp, and one of the stronger
ones. So I think it gave her confidence to go back to a normal school."
This experience helped Rodenburg land a part-time job as a recreation program
manager. It has also given her some practical experience in her field of study,
physical education. "I learned a lot about programming...and I learned a lot
of games and crafts," she says.
Susan Adams has been volunteering at her local recreation center for eight
years now. She started by helping to organize events such as dances for local
"At the time, when I first started with the youth dances, I wanted to make
sure that my kids had some place to go, and would be in a safe environment,
and still be around kids," she says. She says she certainly wasn't going to
let them around the local malls.
"I think everybody needs to know one another. This is such a fast world
we live in. We pass our neighbors all the time and don't really know them.
So this kind of gives the kids a chance to get together outside school, and
the parents to kind of get to know one another."
Robert Cosper, 18, used to get in fights when he was growing up. Now he
is keeping the peace among the kindergarten to Grade 5 kids who participate
in an after-school program offered through the local recreation center.
A long-time volunteer, Cosper has helped out with numerous events. He says
he currently volunteers about 20 hours a week. "I used to be one of those
kids who didn't care," he says. "It has changed my life around."
How to Get Involved
Check out local parks and recreation boards for opportunities. You should
find plenty of them. There are also opportunities with local YMCAs.
Rodenburg says it's important to do something that you like doing. "Because
if you don't like it, then it is not going to get you what you want. If you
like to do it, you are just going to love it. And it will show in the work
that you put into it, as well."
Expect to undergo an interview that assesses your interests and skills
as well as your reasons for volunteering. You may also have to undergo a police
background check and maybe a medical exam.
Physical requirements for this volunteer activity vary.
"It depends completely on the particular volunteer job in question," says
Mayes. She says some volunteer activities may require physical strength and
dexterity, while others may not. Indeed, several of her volunteers are disabled.
Mayes says as long as you have the skills for a particular job, and the
commitment to do that job, you should have no problems.
Mayes also recommends that you get first aid and CPR training. She says
that is one of the most useful things you can do. Indeed, any additional training
will make you a better volunteer, says Mayes.
National Recreation and Park Association
A not-for-profit community service organization
Leisure Information Network
A general resource guide to recreation
Sports Information Resource Center
A database of sports and recreation information