What do you do once you figure out that you want to in parks and Recreation?   This is the question that Deona and I started with in this conversation.  Deona reached out to me as a current student in the parks and recreation field.

I definitely see her as an up-and-coming leader in our field, and I am excited to hear what she has to say!  We talked about how to choose your degree, the right school, the right classes, and then how to get your foot in the door.  She has some really useful tips around volunteering, researching your dream job, and reaching out to other professionals.


What happens when you decide that you want to work in parks recreation?

Once I found out that I wanted to have a career in the parks and recreation field, one of the things that helped me along the way was trying to figure out what kinds of jobs there were available.

Then, I looked at what degrees were required to get that job, and what it looked like to move up in the field.  I found that there were many different types of jobs – like aquatic supervisors, park supervisors,  athletic coordinators, park Rangers, park managers and so much more.

I didn’t realize that once you got a recreation degree, that there were all of these amazing and different diverse kinds of careers that you could have.

I also realized that there are many different types of recreation degrees.  Some of them are called environmental education, or leisure studies, or outdoor education.  There’s so many different names for different schools, and it’s just a matter of what kind of job you want to get after school.


How do you get started in the field?

The first thing I would suggest is to do your research. Think about that dream job and what kind of degrees you’ll need.  Would it be with a city?  A state?  A county?  A private entity?  National Parks?

Whatever you decide, look towards those places to see how they operate and what kind of experience/education is necessary.

Another helpful tip is to volunteer.  You can commit to whatever your schedule will allow.  So whether it’s once a month or once a week, you can meet people and connect with others.  You also get to see how park systems operate.

You can even see your dream job in action.  Ask someone who has your “dream job” and arrange a meeting with them. What does their daily job look like?  How did they get to their current role?  Most people are always looking to give advice.

I would also recommend getting in touch with associations.  The National Association of Interpretation is such a great association. They help young interpreters prepare for a career.

They have workshops, activities, and they have lots of professionals who can give advice.  Another association is NRPA, and they do similar things.  Every state also has an association – so find one in your region that is active and be involved.

What my you tell someone who’s looking for that dream job but isn’t hearing back after they apply?

Be patient. Parks and recreation is a ladder, you can’t just go to the top without starting at the bottom first.

When you’re trying to apply for a position or become a volunteer, go talk to the people and introduce yourselves to the manager or your potential supervisor. Tell them how happy you are to be applying for this job. Face to face and handshakes go a long way.

You may want to start with a part-time position, or a student worker position, or maybe you are even volunteering.  However, you may not realize what you’re dream job actually is until you start.  It’s okay to get started and then change your mind.

There will be a time where you may have to start as a parks worker, changing trash cans, and that’s okay.  You may not have the best job right now because you are just a student and you are learning.  Looking back, I am very proud that I did those types of jobs.  Someone had to do it, and it didn’t just help the parks – it helps the public enjoy their parks and recreation experience.

What do you think are some of the topics that we should be talking about in our field?

  • Look at what some of the best parks and recreation departments are doing
  • What do their parks look like? What’s different about their programs?
  • What makes the difference between a program that gets 2 people and a program with 20 or 200 people?
  • Talk with people who work in the front-line positions at your parks or recreation centers who talk directly with customers. Understand their point of view and develop relationships with them to hear constant feedback.

Deona is working on an app to help people experience parks in new ways. If you’d like to be involved, or perhaps know someone with the technical expertise to help her, please reach out to her at deonamicheli@gmail.com

About Deona

I am Deona Micheli and I have been in the parks field for 5 years. After volunteering and attending an Environmental Science class in high school that partnered with East Bay Regional I got a job working for East Bay Regional Park District, at Big Break in Oakley CA, as a student worker. This job helped me see that parks and recreation was the field I want a career in.

As I was attending a local community college I looked into 4 year university’s with degrees in parks and recreation. I found Fresno State was the place for me. Shortly after that discovery I relocated to the Fresno area. I am currently a student at Fresno City College and I am working on getting my Associates degree in Recreation Admission before continuing on to Fresno State to get my Bachelors degree in Recreation Admission with an Emphasis on Outdoor adventure. I am currently employed by California Department of Fish and Wildlife as a Scientist aid, working with the Salmonids in the Classroom program.




Related Episodes You May Like:

Future Trends in Recreation Centers with Craig Bouck

Professional Development for Parks and Rec Leaders with Anthony Iracki

Inspiring Pride in Parks and Recreation with Angela Summers


Hello everyone and welcome back! Today I am talking to Pat O’toole, who is a Principal with GreenPlay. I had the pleasure of speaking with him while we were traveling in Arizona for a recent project.  He’s got a wealth of experience so I encourage you to go to GreenPlay LLC to check out his resume.

One of the phrases that Pat often says is, “Trust Me Now, Judge Me Later.” So that is the first question I ask him here. I find it fascinating is that he was a parks and recreation director by age twenty one for a small municipality.  That experience allowed him to step up to the plate and come up with some really innovative and creative solutions.

I encourage you guys to listen closely to this one.  Pat is a great storyteller and he gives some really specific advice through his stories that I think you’re really going to enjoy.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  1. How to step up to the plate when you are a young director and have a lot of responsibility – but limited experience.
  2. How to get things done despite limitations, especially around rules and policies. I’m always curious how can use policies to your advantage. What are some of those limited constraints that actually can propel you forward? I think a lot of time to use those policies as an excuse. In these examples, you’ll see how Pat uses creativity to get things done.
  3. I ask him: “what would you say to agencies who say that the lack of funding is currently holding them back?”
  4. This phrase: “Trust me now, judge me later.” I ask him where this comes from in the very first question of this podcast, but I think is that this phrase shows but he’s willing to let his actions speak more than his words.  If you say that you will get it done, then you put in the work to get it done. That’s what should matter.   A lot of times this can give you the leverage that you need to take chances in your organization.

Favorite Moments from the Interview

Q: What’s the story behind “Trust me now, Judge me Later? 

A: “Well, there’s many stories. My way of thinking was just because we were parks and recreation, we didn’t have to be second rate to anybody else.  When I went into an interview,  I was confident enough that I just said, you know what, you’re hired me to do a job and I’ll come here if you let me do the job.  I have no interest in being another government worker.   When my supervisors thought I was getting into risky situations, I used this phrase: “trust me now, judge me later.” If I can’t pull off, just fire me. There’s nothing that motivates me more than somebody saying, “No, I don’t think you can do it,” so that just told me that I needed to pull it off.


Q: In your early twenties you became a director at age twenty-one. So how did you come into that role at age twenty, and what was your approach?

A: First of all, this was for a small town – that was part of the reason.   I went to the state park and rec conference when I was unemployed.  I had worked summers in parks and recreation and agencies before, but there was a job listing at the conference who were doing interviews.  So I signed up to do an interview for this small town.  They wanted someone with five-years’ experience, which I didn’t have.

I signed up anyways, and found out later that the reason why they interviewed me was they could not figure out realize why I applied even though I wasn’t qualified.  I answered the questions realistically.  They wanted to know how long I was planning on working there – and everyone had said that that wanted to retire there,” but I was honest and said 3-5 years.  I told them it was just going to be a stepping stone.  They said, you know what every three to five years we will want to hire a new director anyway.


Q: What do you think raises the bar in the field of parks and recreation? 

A: One thing I learned at an young age, that number one, people will pay for value. To raise that bar, don’t lower your standards because your government you doesn’t need to. Do what you can to be the best you can be. Raising the bar is being a calculated risk taker so that you can be you can set the standards.  Have high energy, keep your best staff, and I think those of the agencies that we see rising to the top and getting the gold medal awards. It’s sometimes not about being a yes person. Being a risk taker is challenging the system. If something shouldn’t take two weeks, why do you allow it to take two weeks?

About Pat O’Toole

Pat brings over 25 years of management planning for parks and recreation agencies and has been leading projects for GreenPlay since 2003. Prior to joining GreenPlay, Pat was President of OATS LLC, a private consulting firm. Before that he worked for many years as a Principal for another parks planning firm, and he was previously a director and assistant director for several agencies in four different states.

Pat has extensive expertise in budgeting, operational pro-formas, cost recovery and activity-based costing, efficiencies, public process, and all other facets of leading agencies. He is skilled at leading forward focused projects and teams, specifically related to creating vision and implementation.

Related Posts You Might Enjoy: 

Ep. 11: Starting a Parks and Recreation Department from Scratch

Professional Development for Parks & Rec Leaders with Anthony Iracki

Inspiring Pride in Parks & Recreation

Staying Relevant in Parks and Recreation is no easy task.  Technology is moving at a rapid pace.  Trends seem to change daily.  What, then, does it mean for agencies to stay relevant? How do we decide when to compete, collaborate, or step back?  In this episode, I talk to Chris Nunes from the Woodlands Township to hear his perspective on what it means to stay relevant in today’s world!

Keys to Staying Relevant in Parks and Recreation:

One of the most important things I took away from this episode is to take the perspective of the customer.  Everyday, act as if you are viewing and experiencing your facilities for the first time.  Understand how perception is reality.

Another important takeaway is how agencies can respond to the on-demand culture.  There seems to be an expectation for parks and recreation to be everything to everyone.  We know, however, that this is just not possible.  There may be other non-profits or businesses that can actually provide services much better than we can.

If parks and recreation agencies can focus on their strengths, and provide services based on what they are really good at, then the can be more efficient.  Partnering with other organizations is a great way to offer the programs in your community, but without expending the resources to do so.

“Raising the bar means to push recreation to where it has never gone before.” – Chris Nunes

About Chris Nunes (Director of Parks and Recreation)

Chris Nunes, CPRE is the Director of Parks and Recreation for The Woodlands Township, in The Woodlands, Texas.  In that position, a $22 million operational budget,  a $4-5 million  yearly capital improvement program and is accountable for the management of 140 parks, 15 swimming pools and aquatic facilities, 220 miles of pathways, and 200 miles of streetscape.

He speaks around the country (over 300+ times) on topics including: business plans, contracting, creative programming, marketing, external funding, communication, leadership and succession planning.  In 2012, Chris was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Parks and Recreation Administrators and in 2015 he received theChris Nunes - Staying Relevant in Parks and Recreation National Distinguished Professional Award from NRPA and in 2016-2017 he is the President of the American Academy of Parks and Recreation Administrators.

Chris holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Recreation Management and a Masters Degree in Sports Management from Springfield College in Massachusetts and a Doctorate in Parks and Recreation Administration from the University of New Mexico.

I hope that this episode helps you and your agency learn how to you can stay relevant in the parks and recreation field.

Other Parks and Recreation Episodes You May Enjoy:

Today I talked to Art Thatcher, who is a Principle with GreenPlay.  I love his perspective on the trends of parks recreation and the way that it’s going.   Art talks about the ways in which millennials are shifting the workplaces of parks and recreation agencies.  We also talk about how our communities are shifting from registered programs to drop-in recreation opportunities.  Those “meet-up” type of programs allow busy individuals the ability to participate when its convenient for them.  Social Media is a whole new outlet for parks and recreation, and it allows those drop-in type of programs to thrive.

In This episode, we talk about:

  • Entrepreneurship of millennials in our field and beyond
  • The specialization of parks and rec career paths
  • The changing on-demand nature of programs
  • How social media and connectivity will impact our field
  • The need for flexible schedules and workplaces.

Art is a Certified Parks and Recreation Professional with 30 years of experience in public parks and recreation operations, programming and administration, volunteer board leadership, facility design and operations, and community engagement.

Throughout his career, Art has concentrated on strategic and master planning, youth civic engagement and teen comprehensive planning, operations and facility management planning, outdoor adventure recreation development and programming, and community engagement facilitation.

Art also has extensive experience working with local, state and national legislators as a subject matter expert and an advocate for the profession. He is the 2014 President and Chair of the Board of the Virginia Recreation and Parks Society.

He was recently recognized for his dedication and contributions to the profession and received the VRPS President’s Award in 2012 and the VRPS Distinguished Service Award in 2013.

A LOT is changing in the world of parks and recreation. I had the privledge of sitting down with Arthur Thatcher with GreenPlay LLC to talk about the ways the young professionals are changing the face of recreation.

Katy is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina and received her degree in Recreation & Park Management from Appalachian State University in 2011. Following graduation, Katy worked as a Recreation Specialist for Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation. In March 2015, she was hired by the Town of Indian Trail Parks & Recreation where her main responsibilities include marketing, programming and park projects. Katy is also the East Central Regional rep for the NRPA’s YPN State Associations Committee and is active in the NCRPA YPN with Student Outreach. Outside of work Katy enjoys spending time with her husband and keeping up with her two toddlers.

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Katy is Raising the Bar:

  • By showing up online and offline in so many different professional networks.  She gives VALUE.
  • By understanding her own habits and implementing strategies that would catch her own attention on social media.
  • By empathizing with her audience so that they can relate to their agency
  • By implementing systems to implement creative ideas from staff

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Strategies to get your audience to tag their friends and engage with your office
  • How creating a REACTION in people will help them stop and pay attention.
  • How one of Indian Trail’s event promotion on Facebook reached 1,000,000 people!
  • Why Awesome PRIZES will promote engagement and inspire people to share your post.
  • How to successfully and strategically plan out social media content without burning out

Additional Links:

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Ok!  So now that you’ve new creative strategies for marketing your programs and services, how do you feel?  Let me know in the comments with a GIF!

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I had the pleasure to interview Keri Konold on the podcast this week to talk about public engagement in relation to conservation and recreation.  It can be difficult to achieve a balance between conservation and recreation; they seem like opposing sides, and yet one in the same.  Keri talks about using the SHIFT principles to reframe the conversation to make progress.  We also dive into her philosophy behind public engagement and some of the ways she has found success when talking to communities, large or small.  Keri is currently the Community Relations Officer at City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, in addition to being a Project Consultant for GreenPlay, LLC.

Keri is raising the bar by:

  • redefining “public engagement” to actually just mean real conversations
  • always having her goals and objectives top of mind before diving into strategy.
  • changing the conversation because promote conservation and recreation can thrive simultaneously
“I encourage professionals to not be daunted by public engagement, but rather embrace it… so our communities whom we serve can go out and have experiences that they value.” – Keri Konold

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • how a culture of collaboration can help create a shared language about conservation on pubic and private land
  • Why developing personal relationships pays off dividends in the end when getting things done
  • If anyone has a stake in the game – as in–> they value something you do, then value their opinion.
“If you know your objective up front, then you can determine the strategy for getting there.”

Additional Resources:

“SHIFT (Shaping How we Invest For Tomorrow) is a program of The Center for Jackson Hole. The 2018 SHIFT Festival will explore the health benefits of time outside: how outdoor recreation on our public lands creates a healthier citizenry, attracts new customers to the outdoor industry, promotes stewardship and advances quality of life in communities across America.”

“IAP2 is an international association of members who seek to promote and improve the practice of public participation / public engagement in relation to individuals, governments, institutions, and other entities that affect the public interest in nations throughout the world. Our mission is to advance and extend the practice of public participation through professional development, certification, standards of practice, core values, advocacy and key initiatives with strategic partners around the world.”

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In this episode, Dustin Graham talks about emerging trends in parks and playgrounds.  We get deep into how playgrounds are the foundation for skill building and risk taking.

What does the future of parks look like?  What happens when cookie cutter playgrounds get replaced by unique, creative, and imaginative structures?

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Dustin Graham, a Designer and Territory Manager, for Great Southern Recreation, has been working in the parks and recreation industry for 15 years. Dustin’s eclectic recreation experience has lead him to the wonderful world of play space design and construction. Dustin services East Tennessee and East Georgia providing design/build services in the playground and splash pad space.

Dustin is Raising the Bar By: 

  • Creating spaces that impact our communities beyond the park
  • Advocating for risky elements in playgrounds for the benefit of child development
  • Asking the big questions like…
“How do we make our communities say, ‘I love my park system’?”

Emerging Trends in Parks and Playgrounds:

  • The rise of splash pads (less maintenance, less staff, and less insurance!)
  • How topographic challenges won’t limit a playground, but will actually be an advantage
  • The potential of using old inhabitable places and transforming them to new gems
  • What to say when someone remarks, “That’s dangerous!!” to a new piece of playground equipment
  • The new features that make playgrounds come alive:Emerging Trends in Parks and Playgrounds
  • Emerging Trends in Parks and Playgrounds
  • Emerging Trends in Parks and Playgrounds
  • Emerging Trends in Parks and Playgrounds
  • Emerging Trends in Parks and Playgrounds
  • How technology can impact the way kids interact with nature
  • Future use of QR codes and augmented reality
  • App-based social fitness challenges
  • How sound and light features will become integrated in parks in conjunction with smart phone technology (similar idea w/ Disney lights –>  watch video )
“Playgrounds are great natural classrooms for kids to learn about themselves” – Dustin Graham


Emerging Trends in Parks and Playgrounds

  • Beltline Park in Atlanta

Emerging Trends in Parks and Playgrounds

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Jay Tryon is the Director of Parks & Recreation for the Town of Indian Trail.  This is a fairly new department that was started in 2013.

Since its creation Jay has lead his team to open over 100 acres of parks and currently is finishing the Towns first Strategic Masterplan.

While in Indian Trail he has built a department known for providing top notch programming and facilities and leading the way with innovative amenities in the region.

Prior to this position he spent 7 ½ years with Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation. Throughout his time with Mecklenburg County he held a few different roles including operations director of special event facilities and athletics supervisor coordinator.

Jay is a member of NCRPA and NRPA and is the past chair of Young Professional Network. He is also a member of the CAPRA Commission.

In 2015 he was awarded one of NRPAs Young Professional fellowships. He is a graduate of SUNY Brockport with a major in Recreation & Leisure Studies and a concentration in Recreation Management.

Jay is Raising the Bar By:

  • Trusting his team, their decision-making, and their ability to get the job done
  • Investing in professional development and educational opportunities for his staff
  • Taking a unique and engaging approach to communicating their offerings to their community
“There’s really no such thing as failure because we are constantly learning and growing as a team — and also as individuals —  to help the community.”

– Jay Tryon

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The steps Jay took to lead a new parks and recreation department from scratch
  • The philosophy behind creating a positive and trusting workplace culture
  • Advice for young professionals who are looking for a career in parks and recreation

Links to Check Out:

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In May of 2017, I started a project. The concept was simple: “Let’s raise the bar in parks and recreation”.  I wanted to explore what that actually meant, so I toyed around with how I was going to accomplish this mission.

Should I develop a news site that updates professionals about current trends?  Create a social forum that openly shared information with others in the field?  Give video tours of the parks I’m visiting and showcase all the best practices?

The sky was the limit, but so was my time and my energy.  For quite a while, I sat quietly by myself looking for clarity.  Hoping that I could talk about parks in a way that changed the world.

It was a humbling experience to realize that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do – alone. We’ve all heard it.  “It takes a team.  Connections are key.  It’s not what you know, it’s who you know…”  I say all those niceties too.  But when you are absurdly ambitious, a little naive, and naturally impatient… well, it is downright scary and a little ego-shattering to reach out and ask for help. I was afraid to ask the questions that I thought everyone knew the answer to.  I hated being put on the spot because I felt it was a make it or break it moment for my career.  When I met new people, my mind ran with a thousand different thoughts that asked, “What will they think of me?”  Anyone who is so concerned about how they are perceived cannot be presently engaging in conversation.  When I spoke on stage, my nerves disrupted my whole thought process so naturally I stumbled over my words.  My ego was exposed and I absolutely hated it.

Eventually, the tornado of ideas turned into a weekly podcast with incredible parks and recreation professionals who raise the bar. They make this project valuable.  They are the ones that give it life.

So, what I realized was this…I know nothing.  Accepting this truth has made me a lot more comfortable in these scary situations.  This truth allowed me to accept wisdom from others and share those insights in a meaningful way.  I gained very little traction with this project until I realized that it would take an army to raise the bar in parks and recreation.  So I reached out, asked for help, and found that the world wasn’t quite as scary as I thought it was.

Turns out, we have some incredibly talented, wise, compassionate, and generous people in the field of parks and rec.  They care.  They see the vision.  They realize that there is enormous potential, both for the benefit of the community and economy.

When you work for a government agency, as most of us do, you have your own tasks, your own budget, your own staff, your own parks, your own facilities.  So much to care for.  It can be hard to look up from your immediate circle and see what’s actually happening.  So here’s a new perspective.

There is a movement of people who actually care about their places far more than we might think. Some may be parks and recreation employees.  Some may be culture creators (or co-creators).  Overall we are witnessing a collective shift happening towards community building and place making.  The best part?  You’re part of it.  Communities are built through agencies like parks and recreation… and it’s probably not as complicated as you might think.

Are you…

  • connecting sidewalks?
  • promoting bike tourism?
  • engaging teens?
  • building pop-up parks?
  • encouraging active living?
  • hosting community events?

…Whatever you’re doing, it matters.  We truly do improve “quality of life.”

“Quality of life” is a nice buzzword these days, so I’ll jump on the bandwagon.  Honestly this term complex and I don’t attempt to define that today.  I think it’s multi dimensional and deeply personal.  Regardless, I think we know it when we see it.  For the Love of Cities, Peter K addresses the dynamic of city government.  He talks about how cities can and should be safe and functional.  Yes, we absolutely should be fixing potholes and paving new roads.  But cities can also be meaningful (and actually, quite fun and exciting) through small changes.  It’s the way you make people feel about the places that matter.  Let’s work on that.

Can I say something that’s completely true but probably a controversial statement in our field?  It is no longer acceptable for governments to be mediocre.  Collecting a paycheck and hiding in your office doesn’t cut it.  Complaining about the taxpayers who have a concern is unproductive. Criticizing your employed millennials because they want to make an impact is self-defeating.

Please don’t doubt this: Private businesses are seeing the opportunity in parks and recreation far more than parks and recreation professionals.  For anyone scared of partnering… I get it.  I cringe when I see McDonalds logo on a playground sign,  BUT we must ask ourself.  Why are we afraid to reach out and build partnerships that build our community?  Is our collective government ego so big that we can’t accept help from those that want to give money?  Do we have an outdated policy – have you asked why it was put in place?  Why are why we afraid that our citizens will shame us for collaborating with business owners?

Just like I became frozen in my doubts and insecurities when I started this project, our organizations are frozen in their policies, regulations and fears.  They hear a new idea and think that it will never happen.  That their patrons just “don’t get it.”  “It’s always been that way.”

It gets old to hear and your citizens are tired of engaging with you.  They will stop if you keep doing this.  Open your ears.  Open your hearts.  Start getting personal.  Start getting real.  There is no doubt that your citizens will fall out of love with you.   Your next generation of leaders will leave.  And you’ll wonder why the heck parks and recreation is undervalued and doesn’t get funding.

It’s past-time to raise the bar in parks and recreation, and we all need to be a part of this movement.  It’s starts with us.  Let’s do it!

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Angela is a Recreation Services Manager with the City of Henderson in Nevada.  And during her 20+ year career, she has worked for recreation facilities in California, Hawaii, Japan, and Nevada.  She is a nationally recognized motivationally speaker and has presented at various conferences across the country for the past 10 years.  Her areas of focus include promoting positive leadership, strengthening workplace culture and relationships, and inspiring today’s “new age” workforce. 

Angela supervises over 250 employees, many of whom are of the millennial generation; through her passion she shares positive insights that help recreational professionals not only survive the millennial invasion, but also learn to embrace it.

Angela is a leader, mentor, wife and a mom.  She and her husband Isaac have 5 beautiful children and she enjoys sharing openly and honestly about the trials and tribulations of motherhood and being a strong female leader.  Angela believes that the key to building strong relationships is “working for it”, which is something she strives to do each and every day.  Being exceptional at something requires dedication, commitment, passion and HARD WORK!

“We’re gonna help you be somebody.” – Angela Summers


In this episode, you’ll learn:

  1. New ideas and tactics for interviews and onboarding – specific advice for both interviewers and potential employees
  2. How to set a strong foundation for staff culture from day 0
  3. Why Imposing our own expectations and using scare tactics on others is not a good way to maintain relationships

Angela is raising the bar by:

  1. Inspiring her staff and organization to be PROUD of the work they do to improve their community
  2. Focusing on building relationships with customers and treating them as people first
  3. Embracing the strengths of the next generation of leaders, and instilling the values – such as loyalty – that may not come naturally


“Try to see the human side to the mistakes an employee makes.” – Angela Summers


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