So You Want A Job In Recreation?

Having a career in recreation really sounds like so much fun. I’ve been teased about college courses I probably took to get my job, such as “Underwater Basket Weaving” and “How to Run Bingo Games for Seniors.” I’ve also had people tell me how lucky I am to work in a place where people come to have fun. I always agree. But how do we tell them our secret?

What exactly is our secret? That we put in incredible hours to accomplish often Herculean tasks that would be assigned to at least a dozen more people in any other profession? And we really are professionals who have attended real universities and taken demanding classes that we rely on for the jobs we do.

A New Curriculum

The other part of the secret is that we are never adequately prepared for what we are asked to do in our coveted positions. If we were, our university class descriptions would read something like this:

Recreation 101: How to juggle the demands of new, special events while completing the regular schedule without additional staff.

Recreation 102: How to advertise new programs to new audiences without new money for advertising.

Recreation 103: How to convince your spouse that it would be fun to work on holidays and take comp time next year.

From special-event planning to meeting with neighborhoods in preparation for a new park design, jobs in recreation test the boundaries of 80-hour, two-week pay periods more often than not.

Not Home For The Holidays

Probably one of the reasons we are not unionized is because union bosses would snarl at the thought of requiring members to get up at 3 a.m. to organize a marathon. The boss would march on city hall to complain how we had to spend 16 hours on a Saturday making sure Halloween occurred for thousands of guests.

In our profession, we work to make people enjoy holidays. That means spending Fourth of July on the back of a float, waving to parade-goers while promoting a friend’s group. New Year’s Eve means hiking in snow up to our thighs putting out luminaries instead of going out with friends. Easter will find us up to our eyeballs in plastic eggs and chocolate.

In this field we are challenged to provide engaging experiences for people of all ages in a wide variety of activities with small budgets. That means we call on all of our relatives and friends to help us with the special events, offer to feed them, and give them volunteer T-shirts as an eternally grateful thank-you in exchange for their generous offer of time.

So You Want A Job In Recreation?

That’s terrific. It’s a great field with many daily rewards, and I wouldn’t want a career in anything else. But it would be nice to retire the idea that we don’t work very hard, or that it doesn’t take a college degree to do our jobs. Once the word is out, we’ll be teased less and respected more. The public will better understand what it takes to put in a skate park, run a sandcastle-building contest, and put on a Memorial Day picnic for thousands.

The complaints--though not many--might all but vanish if the public knew even a little about all the meetings, phone calls, e-mails, volunteer coordination and physical work it takes to meet even one of our yearly goals. How do we tell the public all that goes into our secret without sounding like we are whining? We’re not about to do that.

We’re too busy trying to hold programs together in tough budget times, when what we do is perceived to be non-essential services. We know the value of what we do and how we serve a public with activities that enrich lives. We know at the end of some very long days the world is a better place because there is a new ball field to play on, a new dance class to take and a summer camp to attend.

We know that recreation deserves a better stature in society for the way we keep kids engaged in meaningful after-school activities, and give families wholesome inexpensive experiences to do on weekends. We know that recreation provides immeasurable benefits that greatly influence the quality of life in our communities. But we’re not telling, that’ll be up to you.

Dr. Karen I. Shragg is Director of the Wood Lake Nature Center for the City of Richfield, Minn. She can be reached via e-mail at