What About Us?
By Charlie Hoffmann
Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Kurhan
From a service perspective, the Borough of Fair Haven’s Recreation Department in New Jersey faced a small conundrum in regard to adult programming. The quaint, riverfront town had many opportunities for youngsters to enjoy; similarly, seniors had a wide range of activities to choose from, including fitness classes, trips, and shopping, with various interest groups, such as gardening, crafts, and card games. By comparison, few opportunities were geared toward adults ages 25 to 65. Someone noted that the average adult residents are paying the tax bill, certainly not the children and, in many cases, not the senior citizens. One gentleman reminded me that his municipal tax contribution was quite considerable, and he had no children or any senior citizens in his household. After some thought, I felt his point was both well-made and fair. Why should all of the programming emphasis be on the very young and (frankly) the old? Were we neglecting an enormous and obvious sector of the population?
We needed to take action!
The first step was to form a focus group, which included a few informal meetings with committee members as well as several other adults who were asked to participate. I “bribed” the group with the best Portuguese food I could find in exchange for their ideas and insights. The group agreed there needed to be more activities for the “moms and dads” of the community. By the time we finished our Caldeirada (Portuguese seafood), we had some new programming options, and were excited to start. Some of the most successful programs are listed below.
From Couch To 5k
One of the first programs added was a Couch to 5k run (3.1 miles). In the past few years, recreational running has experienced a terrific increase in participation not seen since the Steve Prefontaine/Frank Shorter phenomenon of the early 1970s. The goal is for adults to train for and complete a 5k race (training begins in early April and ends with the run in June). The group meets on Mondays and Wednesdays, and participants are given a “homework assignment” to be completed over the weekend. The beauty of the class is that it encompasses all ability levels, including folks who have not exercised in many years. Each class includes a handout, a warm-up, a group run, and a cool-down. The atmosphere is informal with everyone cracking jokes and maintaining an upbeat attitude. The first day features only a few seconds of running mixed with plenty of walking. The class progresses to include more running and less walking over time. After the race, many of the participants continue running, with some participating in triathlons and even marathons. The class is exceptionally rewarding, as self-proclaimed “non-runners” are transformed into runners who will enjoy the sport for years to come.
Run Around The Country
“Run Around the Country” has followed on the success of the 5k program. Essentially, any adult who is walking or running regularly is encouraged to email their distances to the rec department. Each week, a spreadsheet is updated that tracks how far participants have run from town. For instance, the Delaware state border is 94 miles away. So “Welcome to Delaware” certificates are given to participants who reach the 94-mile mark. Additional certificates are presented as runners log additional miles. There are hundreds of adults currently involved in this program. One participant has run from New Jersey south to Florida and east to Louisiana (almost to Texas). The program is easy to manage and does not cost a penny (certificates are emailed). A friendly, competitive spirit is present as participants strive to reach the next state, or record specific distance goals.
To stimulate residents’ minds as well as their muscles, the soapbox series was created. This is another event that has no cost, and is relatively easy to implement. The department simply fills the community center with speakers who talk on a variety of interesting topics geared toward adults. Each session is approximately an hour with 15 minutes of questions and answers. Speakers include local authors, medical personnel, cyber-security experts, artists, college-admissions counselors, nutritionists, historians, and more. The public is always welcome to suggest other speakers that they may want to hear. Presenting the talks monthly on a consistent night (such as the first Thursday) has proven to be successful.
Sounds At Sunset
Since Fair Haven is located on a gorgeous river, the rec department wanted to capitalize on its beauty, and so the very successful Sounds at Sunset Summer Concert Series was begun. The newly refurbished municipal pier serves as the perfect setting to enjoy music and camaraderie with the neighbors as the sun sets on the river. These events are specifically aimed at adults because the bands often play music from the 1980s and 1990s. Additionally, a craft activity for kids is held at the far end of the pier, giving adults a chance to enjoy the concert while their children are entertained.
The Father/Daughter Dance has always been successful, so the department wanted to find a “Mom-equivalent” event, thus the Mother/Son Champions Brunch was created. The event is open to mothers with a son in grades 1 through 6. It includes a delicious brunch as well as a meet-and-greet with local celebrities, such as high-school athletes, firemen, policemen, the mayor, construction workers, and a representative from the U.S. Army. While the program gives young boys an opportunity to meet local heroes, mothers appreciate some quality time with their sons. They are also given a picture of them as well as a complimentary flower for their participation.
Adult Component To Community-Focused Events
In an effort to add an adult activity to community-focused family events, massages and manicures have been added on the last day of week-long mother/child art classes. The complimentary adult services are administered while the children create a craft project in another room. This surprise was also extremely easy to facilitate and sparked plenty of exceptional feedback.
Another example of deliberately designing programming for “non-senior adults” occurs during the town-wide camp-out. Conducted every summer, the camp-out draws hundreds of residents as they pitch a tent in the park and spend the night gazing into the picturesque summer sky. Before participants drift off to sleep, the recreation department provides several activities, including a camp fire, a DJ with contests, and s’mores (cooked by the staff). A “mandatory” kids-only meeting and scavenger hunt are held, which gives parents/adults nearly an hour of free time while their children are supervised by recreation department staff. This small token of courtesy has been especially well-received by the parents.
Incorporating more leisure-focused programming for adults is an important facet of recreational planning that is often overlooked. Input from this population should be sought as to their leisure-related objectives. Similarly, many existing programs can often be tweaked or varied to include a more enjoyable experience for this demographic. Adults have busy schedules with limited time to devote to their recreational pursuits; therefore, programs should be meticulously planned and carefully implemented. This approach will create a culture of great participation and gratitude among the adults in the community.
Charlie Hoffmann is the Director of Recreation for the Borough of Fair Haven, N.J. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .