By Corky Emberson, CPRP
Superintendent of Recreation, Urbana Park District
Urbana Park District parks, facilities, programs and classes are for everybody. We make sure that the trust the public places in us with their tax dollars is honored with high-quality, safe and enriching activities.
It is easy to pay lip service to inclusivity. But, lip service isn’t enough. Each Park District employee, counselor, educator and volunteer needs that welcoming and inclusive attitude hard-wired into everything they do.
How do we hard-wire inclusivity into our work? We use the slogan: “You belong here.” While it is three simple words, we take the slogan seriously. I challenge recreation staff to create vibrant programs where all people in Urbana feel that they belong at the Park District. With a very creative recreation staff, our programs are able to reach more people.
Getting inclusivity hard-wired is the first step. We then must reach those who may be under-represented in our community.
One barrier to inclusivity is cost. The Urbana Parks Foundation has been an excellent partner in breaking down that barrier. The foundation has raised money for scholarships so people can attend programs regardless of ability to pay. We are grateful to the foundation for their efforts.
The Urbana Parks Foundation has also been instrumental in helping us bring biking to all. Thanks to foundation fundraising, we have developed a Kickapoo Rail Trail trailhead at Weaver Park, connecting more people to the beloved KRT.
If people cannot get to one of our facilities, we go to them. Our Neighborhood Nights, Neighborhood Namaste, Play Days in the Park, Yoga in the Park, Bike celebrations, Jettie Rhodes Day, nature activities and the Senior Euchre Group are all free events. We take these activities to our neighborhood parks so people can simply walk to Park District events.
This summer, our Outreach and Planning staff went into the community to gather feedback on what people want to see at Urbana Park District. We asked people: How can Urbana Park District help people be healthy? What programs would you like to see at Urbana Park District? How can Urbana Park District do better in communicating with people?
Those answers will help us create our next strategic plan. A major component of that plan will be to provide even more inclusive programming for all.
This is just the beginning. Moving forward we will provide new programming, strategies and outreach to make sure everyone feels like they belong at Urbana Park District.
Please help us spread the word that when it comes to Urbana Park District, “You belong here!”