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Welcome back to the podcast, this is episode #8.  Today, we are talking to Jo Burns, the co-founder of the Colorado Public Health/Parks & Recreation Collaborative.  We talk all about the ways local parks and recreation agencies can partner with health organizations to improve the health of local communities.

Most everyone would agree that HEALTH is a vital part of your quality of life. When you get sick, if you have a chronic illness, when you are injured, you know that being healthy is something that we should be constantly grateful for.

As parks and recreation professionals, we also know that health means something a little different. Naturally, parks and rec facilities provide the safe places for people to improve their health for exercise, but we also now have the opportunity to partner with health organizations to create long lasting change. These partnerships can help expand health benefits to underserved populations, which can be powerful. In this episode, Jo talks about what local agencies can do to take steps towards building health into your core services.

Jo Burns is currently the Chief Connection and Collaboration Officer of Jo Burns Consulting and the Co-Founder for the Colorado Public Health/Parks & Recreation Collaborative. For the past 4 years Jo has been engaged in leadership and collaboration opportunities with parks, recreation and public health professionals. Jo spent 20 years working with people with disabilities and chronic illness in a variety of settings providing Therapeutic Recreation. Jo served as the Communications and Office Genius for Colorado Parks and Recreation Association.  She has degrees in Business, Psychology and Recreation & Leisure, as well as earned a certificate from IU for Public Health and You. Jo’s favorite outdoor activities are hiking, skiing and volunteering at the Majestic View Nature Center.

Jo is Raising the Bar by:

  • showing that small steps are actually big steps when it comes to improving the health of your community.
  • simple conversations can have a ripple effect once we know who to talk to.
  • tackling complex health issues with local leaders

I want this episode to be actionable for you, so I put a list of healthy initiatives that Jo mentioned.

Examples of healthy initiatives for parks and recreation:

  • Making Healthier Food Options Available
  • Safe Routes to Parks
  • Vending for Food Choices
  • Access to Parks
  • Prescriptions for Health
  • Access to Healthcare
  • Limiting Sugary Drinks in Concession Stands & Vending Machines
  • Physical therapy and/or Immunization clinics within fitness facilities
  • Home exercise program / transition back to health
  • Nutrition, Health, and Cooking Classes
  • After school program collaborations
Raising the bar means realizing that parks and recreation truly is a key player in the world of health. -Jo Burns

Some Resources that Jo mentions:

Colorado Public Health
Public Health in the Rockies
NRPA Health and Wellness Pillar
Active Living Research
Jo Burns Consulting

Also, not mentioned but I should: GP RED is a nonprofit that is dedicated to research and education for professionals related to parks, recreation, health, and so much more.  Check the website out for more info.

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Hey everyone, thanks for tuning in again!  This week I had the opportunity to talk with Melissa Battite (CPRP!), who is the Director at Lexington Recreation and Community Programs in Lexington, Massachusetts.  Melissa and I actually met at the NRPA conference in Las Vegas in 2015. We were paired through a networking/mentorship event, and we had a great conversation! When I started this podcast, I knew I would want to circle back and talk to Melissa and ask where she is today.

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You can learn more about Melissa on her LinkedIn Profile.

Melissa didn’t know she was pursuing a career in parks and recreation when she spent her summers as a “Playground Supervisor.” During her first year of college, Melissa took an “Introduction to Recreation” class that sparked her interest in the parks and recreation field.  Later in college, she took a tourism class, and finally decided to pursue Parks and Rec as a career after talking with her counselor, Ellen O’Sullivan, Ph.D.  After graduation, Ellen referred her to a 1-year term position in Brookline (near Boston, MA), where she ended up staying for over 20 years.

Google Map Data, 2017

Fun fact for you!  Brookline, MA, has an interesting history; it is home to the first indoor swimming pool in America (built in 1883!) and the oldest playground in America (built in 1871!).

Over the course of 23 years, Melissa worked her way up from Front Line Recreation Leader, Recreation Supervisor I, Recreation Supervisor II, and finally as a Assistant Recreation Director.  During her time at Brookline, she saw a need for a Therapeutic Recreation Program, so she worked to create one.   Listen to her tips for starting your own recreation therapy program in the podcast.

Just a few years ago, a Director position came open in Lexington, MA.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to leave the town of Brookline.

“I was very comfortable, I was very challenged, I loved who I worked with… but I thought, if I don’t take this opportunity to just try, I’ll never know.” – Melissa Battite

She recently moved to Lexington, MA, where she is now a Director of Recreation & Community Programs. As a director, her roles range from administration, to staff development, to goal setting and so much more. She also makes it a priority to visit local parks and facilities to maintain relationships and show her presence in the community.

Melissa raises the bar by:

  • Considering transportation and affordability as critical factors when defining inclusion
  • Maintaining an active presence in the community and in her organization by visiting parks and facilities
  • Learning (and sharing!) from online resources through active membership of NRPA networks
  • Believing that raising the bar for yourself is actually the key to raising the bar in your organization

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Tips for starting a Therapeutic Recreation Program
  • How parks and recreation agencies can partner with mental health organizations, school districts, and local services to achieve incredible goals
  • How justifying the need for parks and recreation is actually an opportunity not a burden.

Resources/Links Mentioned:

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“This is one of the things I love about this industry.  Everyday is different.  We have the built in flexibility to continue to reinvent ourselves no matter what position we are in.” – Melissa Battite

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In this episode, I had the great opportunity to interview Anthony Iracki, MS, CPRP, for an exciting conversation about professional development in the field of parks and recreation. As a young professional, Anthony has some truly incredible insights that are applicable for both current and future leaders. You’ll love this one.  Please share it.

“You are a caretaker of the community, but you need to take care of yourself first.”  – Anthony Iracki


Learn more about Anthony: 

The words “During working hours, we make a living. During leisure hours, we make a life” ring true for Anthony Iracki, a supervisor for the Village of Brown Deer Parks and Recreation Department. Anthony has worked in the field of parks and recreation since the age of 16, and he is passionate about enhancing the quality of life for everyone in his community. His focuses include innovative program development, business partnerships, conservation through education, and social equity in programming. Anthony’s ultimate goal is to ensure that every resident in his community has the opportunity to truly experience life.


“If you want to raise the bar, and you want change, you can’t be afraid of everything that comes with it.” – Anthony Iracki


Anthony is Raising the Bar:

  • By reminding professionals that putting your mental and physical health first is actually the key to serving others best
  • By encouraging us to use the word “no” as motivation to keep pushing towards  long term goals
  • By prioritizing FUN back into our job – because that’s what parks and recreation is all about!
  • By thinking of collaboration as a positive endeavor rather than a threat


In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How current leaders in the field can help prepare the next generation
  • The steps that students and young professionals can take to work their way up in the field – hint: it’s all about connection.
  • What the future of parks and recreation look like when Millennials are in leadership positions
  • Tactical approaches for being a leader without the title
  • Why “Culture Creators” can have serious positive impact on your community
  • And so much more… seriously, you gotta listen to this one!


“Leadership is Situational.  Leadership can come from anyone. You just have to not be afraid to fail; to know when to push and know when to step back.” – Anthony Iracki

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Love where you Live by Peter Kageyama

The Mentor Leader by Tony Dungee

NRPA Aquatics Network

Association of Aquatic Professionals

State Associations

Scholarships for NRPA

Young Fellowship Scholarship, Diversity Scholarship

American Academy for parks and recreation administration – Externship

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If you enjoyed this episode, please share it!

Follow Anthony Iracki on LinkedIn



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  • This podcast is all about how to raise the bar in parks and recreation because we know that it’s our responsibility to serve our community to the best of our ability. That means we need two things: 1) We need to be able to use new tools that will help us be more efficient and effective. 2) We need to train and mentor the next generation of parks and recreation professionals.
  • Episode #5 is all about how a student or young professional can get their first job in parks and recreation, OR if they are in part-time work, move to full-time work.
  • In this episode, I’ll provide you actionable tips that I’ve picked up along the way on my journey, as I’ve moved from camp counselor, intern, part-time to full-time positions, and I’ll also be throwing in clips from interviews that I’ve done that should help inspire you.  Please share this episode with those who may need to hear it.
  • Let me know what you thought about the episode my messaging me on Instagram.


So what?

  • I want to address the elephant in the room. College age graduates and interns need more from their local parks and recreation before embarking on a career in the field. Stop making it a summer job, and start taking pride in it – start thinking of this as a lifelong career. Set them up for success, and treat them as if they will be your next parks and recreation director. They might just be.
  • The younger generations want to make an impact in the community, so if you can frame it as an opportunity to that, they’ll be all for it.  This is what parks and recreation should be.
  • Give them autonomy and independence to create value for you and your community.  Let them be in Linchpin – Seth Godin Book.  You will need to be competitive with salary and outside work.

Ways People Find Jobs in Parks and Recreation

They stumbled into it.  Seriously some people didn’t even know that this is what they’re career was going to be. Remember that everyone started from the ground up.  Yes, some had connections – and that’s a critical piece that we’re about to talk about.  But many people stumbled into a career in parks and rec.  They just found it through a summer job, or a friend who lifeguarded too. That means that if you’re someone who is intentionally going into the field, you have a leg up.  Because you have the passion for it.  I asked Jayna Lang what happens when you are looking to hire someone but they don’t have the experience.  Listen to what she said.  It’s all about passion.


They had a connection.  They networked like crazy. You won’t get where you are going without people.  You need to find the people who will go out on a limb for you and believe in you.  All it takes is a connection – a volunteer supervisor, a coworker, who believes in you.  In Jayna’s situation, she was a lifeguard and she worked her way up because she found someone she looked up to and that gave her the connections to progress in her career.  IT WAS ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO CHOSE TO HELP her. So you need to find those people.

Starting from scratch

You may need to start from scratch.  You may be in a new area, new territory, you’ll need to stand out.  Everything I’m about to tell you never will beat going into a location and shaking someone’s hand.  Remember that you are offering them value, so position yourself that way – departments need quality applicants.  Just listen to Sean Van Roen from Meeker, Colorado, talk about their need for them.

Key items:

  • Optimize your resume and online presence.  Get someone you trust to review your resume. It needs to be specific, actionable, bold. What do you stand for? People want to see passion in your resume, because that’s what this field is about.  Be on LinkedIn, connect with local professionals. You have to be found on the internet – google yourself, create a LinkedIn Profile and fill it out to the best of your ability.
  • Answer: what does my dream job look like?  What are the hours?  The people that you work with?  Simply stating that you want a job in parks and recreation isn’t specific enough – do you want to be a director?  Do you want to manage recreation or aquatic programs?  Map out what your ideal day to day worklife would be, and write down that goal.  Be flexible, however, because your dream job may take you to a new location, new places and roles that you’ve never heard of.  Also know that your experience in a big city might land you in a recreation assistant role, while in smaller rural areas, you could qualify for a director.  So be strategic.
  • Identify the key connectors in your dream job. Identify the people who work in the parks. You can visit any front desk and ask who is in charge. You can look on the website and find their phone number. Emailing may help when it comes to starting communication, but more powerful ways to do this is to visit the park, office, or facility. Ask if they are available, and leave your card if they are not. Get their phone number, call that afternoon. Leave your resume at the desk.  You will have a better shot at getting an interview if you meet them over coffee first.  Ask if you can’t understand more about what they do on a daily basis.  You might be surprised.
    • I remember vividly trying to get my first job in parks and recreation. So badly, I wanted to be a camp counselor at a nearby park. I parked in the far away lot so that I could have a short walk before turning in my application.  I remember panicking outside of the door – I gave myself a pep talk – go turn in the application, becky.  Just go do it.  I finally went in there and tried to turn it in, only to be told that I needed to turn it into HR.  So don’t make that mistake.
  • Be prepared in your interview.
    • Ask questions to them.  What are my responsibilities.  Who will you? be working with?  What does a typical day look like for you?
    • What levels of training, support do you have for young professionals? Or, how do you encourage growth in your youngest staff?
    • Business cards?  Resume printed?
  • Education does help. So do certifications.  But your work experience matters more.
  • In the field of parks and recreation, you need experience – it can be volunteer work or paid work.  Connect with the people you’ve identified and ask them if you can volunteer.  Bring value first and then they will pay you.
  • Act the part.  Full-time employees carry themselves a little differently. They bring a positive attitude to the workplace, every day. They wear clothes that represent who they are, a professional. They don’t talk negatively about their coworkers and they treat everyone with respect.
  • They communicate well.  They’re not perfect but they’re diligent as possible.  They’re professional in their communication, both on and off line.  They follow up when they agreed to, and they uphold their promises .  Don’t worry, we are all working on this one.


Above all, don’t get discouraged.  Just because your first job didn’t work out as planned, you can still find another one.  Your boss was a jerk?  They’re not all like that.  Keep hustling.  Keep applying.  Keep networking and meeting and greeting.  They’re not all the same. Find a place where you feel valued.

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Ah, technology.  I love it and I hate it.  I’m an advocate for it and yet most of the time I feel absolutely clueless when I’m using it.  I’ve taught myself how to code websites, create a podcast (kinda), use project management software, and use countless other programs. Yet have trouble making phone calls and using Google Maps.  Life is weird.

In this episode, I talk about the fact that failure is 1. 100% ok when you are trying new things; and 2. When you are working with new technology, you can bet that something is going to go wrong.  That’s okay.  How will you pick yourself back up and move forward?  If you’re the leader, and you see your employee take a risk, are you the kind of person who will encourage that person to keep trying?

Next week, I’ll be back with a new episode – another interview – so stay tuned!  Share this episode if you liked it!

Oh, and if you are interested…here is the link to the social media analytics presentation I did last week.

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Jayna Lang’s first job was as a lifeguard at her local pool; she turned that summer job into a lifelong career through parks and recreation. She worked her way up to the Recreation Program Supervisor role, learning valuable lessons along the way.  In this conversation, we talk about onboarding new employees, training them efficiently, and making sure to establish a values-first organization (this starts in the interview!).  When asked what she looks for when hiring new employees, she says unequivocally, “enthusiasm and a passion for serving the community.”  Then, we dive into what it takes to form a successful relationship with partners in local communities.


Jayna is Raising the Bar…

  • By treating her employees as people first – and instilling organizational values from the start
  • By consistently looking into the future to answer, “What’s next?”
  • By using partnerships and collaboration to do more with less


In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Jayna worked her way up in the parks and recreation field, starting first as a lifeguard
  • The systems and processes that Jayna uses to efficiently hire and onboard new employees
  • Key communication tips that Jayna uses to keep in touch with her team


Links & Resources Mentioned:

City of Lakewood Parks and Recreation Master Plan: lakewood.org/imagine

Colorado Parks and Recreation Association 

Workbrite is a new tool that Jayna mentioned for onboarding employees


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Renee Raney loves her job. She is the Parks Operations Supervisor of Events for Cheaha State Park. Each and everyday, people travel to the park to participate in the unique programs and activities the park offers.

Whether its “Hammocking 101, the “Women’s Wilderness Weekend,” or the countless other outdoor programs, Renee is behind the scenes making sure that the variety and quality of programs is the best it possibly can be.

She instills her own love of nature in all of the work she does, which is evident to the 36,000 Facebook followers she helps engage on social media. Sometimes she shares recipes for herbal tea, other times she tells a story of a park guest who had an interesting experience.

Most of the followers know her by name and it’s easy to know why. She’s in tune with the community, and has the skills and experience to create and market programs to suit their desires. She makes it look easy.

In reality, many programmers in the field of parks and recreation know that creating a new program can be downright challenging. Beyond developing the idea, the supplies, the staff needed, and the outcomes, you also have to prove that it’s a valuable program to pursue. Renee has developed her own evaluation tool that measures the success of the program (and regularly sees a 600% learning increase!).

To say I was impressed with this tool was an understatement. Then, when Renee mentioned that her program plans look like a movie script, it all made sense.

She’s the director. The staff are the actors. And all of the community is the audience. I can bet that they’d give her a standing ovation for the incredible work she’s doing at Cheaha State Park.

Talking to Renee was like talking to an old friend. I hope you feel the same way when you listen to the podcast.

“Be as perceptive of your audience as you can be. Be real.”

Renee is Raising the Bar…

  • by being data-driven.
  • by creatively using her skills to improve her organization.
  • by being in tune with her community.
  • by authentically sharing her story.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The path Renee took to get to the job she loves
  • How to try new program ideas when there isn’t a proven concept
  • The unique way that Renee is able to track success in programs
  • How Renee manages to engage 36,000+ followers on Facebook

Quick Tips on Social Media from Renee:

  • Each day, schedule hourly Facebook posts for the next day
  • You can post the same things multiple times but there’s a trick to it; remember that there’s a different audience at 9am than at 8pm
  • Bring a personal touch to your comments; put your name behind it if you write it.
  • When promoting an event, create a specific Facebook event page. Then, promote this event 10+ times, exchanging the photos of team
  • If someone shares your post, always comment and say “thank you”

“When you post about success and optimism and the beauty of natural resources and the incredible staff that are keeping it in operation… it’s a win-win.”


Cheaha State Park Facebook Page
Cheaha State Park Website
Alabama State Park

Cheaha State Park is promoting natural resource conservation, outdoor recreation, environmental education, wellness, community, and partnerships in a way that all of those interconnect for the improvement of the individual’s experience and the community’s perception of the park.

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Hello everybody and welcome to the Becky Talks Parks Podcast.

It’s so exciting to see this project come to life. For too long, I have thought… where is the conversation for parks and recreation professionals?

The current mediums for communication leave much to be desired. I want to share authentic conversations with professionals in our field, diving into both the highlights and the struggles of working as a park and rec pro.

Truly, this conversation is for my younger self. The one who sat in college, wondering what she was going to do with her life. Who cared deeply about being outdoors. Who loved working with other people and understanding their point of view.

She just didn’t know what she wanted to do as a career. And then, when she found out that parks and recreation was actually a major – and a career that improved the community – she lit up!

She knew it was right for her. But she couldn’t find real conversations from others in the field about what it was like, or which one of the paths she should take within parks and recreation.

She wanted to know what it was like to be in charge of aquatic programs, recreation centers, open space, environmental programs, camps. She wanted to know what it was like, and what it took to be a director of parks and rec. She didn’t want a glossed over conversation saying that everything was easy. No, she wanted the truth.

And when she actually pursued career choices that led her to manage rec centers, fitness programs, and parks, she wanted real advice from others about best practices in hiring, on-boarding, and training staff; planning for upcoming trends in the field; and using digital tools and technology to make parks and rec more efficient and effective.

So that’s what this podcast is about. It’s for the current and future park and recreation professionals who love what they do. It’s about conversations with all levels of recreation professionals, from lifeguards, to environmental educators, to recreation supervisors, to directors. It’s for anyone who has an idea to raise the bar in the field.

I believe that we all have ideas that are valuable. It’s simply a matter of hearing those ideas at the right time, in the right settings, to the right people. This podcast will help share those ideas.

If you, or someone you know, is a recreation professional who is passionate about their job and the impact they are having on their community, please reach out to me at becky@beckytalksparks.com.

A new podcast will be released every Tuesday afternoon. So please stay tuned and check back often. Episodes and more info can be found at my blog at beckytalksparks.com.

If you are looking forward to this podcast, be sure to subscribe, leave a review, and share it with your coworkers and friends.

It’s time to take pride in the awesome field of parks and recreation! It’s time to raise the bar!

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