Parks and Recreation Jobs

2013-07-28T00:00:00Z Parks and Recreation JobsBy Christine Bryant Times Correspondent
July 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Anyone who has seen a show based on a true-life profession knows writers often take creative liberties with story lines.

It's Hollywood, after all, and shows must entertain to be successful on the air.

Employees from local parks and recreation departments, however, say while their jobs aren't exactly like the NBC show, "Parks and Recreation," there are many aspects of their jobs that are both entertaining and funny.

Just ask Jenna Tyler, a recreation supervisor who has been on the job with the Munster Parks and Recreation Department for only two months.

"Jenna just began working with us in May and has already been accidentally hit by a Bingo bulletin board when she was working with our Keen-Agers - our senior program," said Barbara Holajter, superintendent of recreation.

The Munster staff members also have seen an employee go into labor in the middle of a parks program and a teenager get stuck in a baby swing at one of the parks.

"When the park maintenance staff arrived, she whispered, 'No one else is coming, right?' Recreation Supervisior Jill Higgins said. "Within seconds, fire trucks and several rescue units appeared with sirens sounding."

Or ask Jenny Orsburn, superintendent with Portage Parks and Recreation, who regularly sees inhibitions go out the window when managing the city's Lakefront and Riverwalk park.

"There's a lot of really good memories when you meet people and they talk about the wonderful experiences they've had," Orsburn said. "It's romantic how people talk about the parks. But the things that go on, the way people behave - I don't know what happens to them when they get on the beach."

As Stephanie Simpson, superintendent of recreation with the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District, puts it, "I have always said recreation professionals could write a book on funny things that happen."

For every funny moment, however, there's a serious side to working for a parks and recreation department - and that involves employees' dedication to improving the quality of life for residents, they said.

"One of the greatest rewards I see is when the community comes together to celebrate and enjoy the parks and programs we offer," Simpson said. "We like to think that we are not only offering classes and events, but helping children and families create memories."

Parks employees often wear many hats - not only teaching classes for children and adults in their respective communities, but also running summer camps, managing parks and trails, renting facilities, overseeing dog and skate parks, prepping sports fields and ensuring equipment is safe.

"We have over a dozen parks, with more than 700 acres of land we manage," Orsburn said.

In Homewood and Flossmoor, the park district offers more than 900 programs and classes throughout the year, and many workers say during the summer, their lives are focused on the parks department.

"We're like a family in the summer," said Ryan Schweitzer, a recreation supervisor with the Schererville Parks and Recreation Department. "I honestly think I see my staff more in the summer than I do my actual family."

Pam Passera, an employee with the Portage Parks and Recreation Department for more than 25 years, says a challenge she faces is adapting to new trends and technology.

"Many of the children who participated in our day camps are now parents and have children of their own who attend our park programs," she said. "Much of the hands on interaction that was used in 1987 has been replaced with computers. It's much easier to reach a large amount of people today. However, the personal contact and face-to-face interaction has been lessened."

There's a dark - or dirty - side to the job as well.

It can be a challenge to keep up with the amount of trash that's disposed of, especially during the summer, Orsburn said.

"It's unbelievable how much trash is generated in the summer - it's truly unbelievable," she said.

Staff members also have the chore of cleaning bathrooms and maintaining the overall cleanliness of the parks.

"It's the dirty underbelly of the parks and rec world," Orsburn said. "You have these beautiful parks you take care of and you want them to look beautiful and stay clean."

Although parks and recreation departments could also be featured on another TV show, "Dirty Jobs," Schweitzer echoes the thoughts of several other employees.

"Days are long, especially when it's hot and humid outside, but I wouldn't trade it for any other job," he said.

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