Spread The Love

By Pat Brockway

Since its inception in 1982, Oakland County Parks and Recreation’s (OCPR) Recreation Assistance Partnership Program (RAPP) in Michigan has provided recreation yearly to more than 1-million county residents who might not otherwise have had access.

RAPP is part of the parks system’s evolving Strategic Master Plan and a commitment to serve all areas and citizens throughout the county’s 62 cities, villages, and townships. Bordering to the north of Wayne County and city of Detroit, the southern end of Oakland County is heavily urban with limited green space and several lower-income communities. Through RAPP, grants are awarded in the form of OCPR mobile, recreation-program activities, which include outreach programs, nature education, and bus transportation to cities, villages, and townships; community parks and recreation departments; schools; downtown development authorities; non-profit organizations; and underserved populations. In the current OCPR budget, $200,000 has been allocated toward the program.

“The grants do not give the community money, but rather recreational experiences in the form of staff time, equipment, and transportation,” OCPR Executive Officer Dan Stencil says.

Stencil was the driving force behind RAPP’s incorporation into the OCPR budget. Originally, RAPP was part of a two-year federal program. It started at OCPR with a grant of $30,000. “I saw it as an effective use of our resources,” Stencil said. “The purpose of our mobile recreation component is to bring recreational activities to area where there aren’t any, especially to low-income and underserved areas.”

Awarding Grants
Grants are awarded in three areas:

  • Community outreach—individual groups
  • Community collaborations—larger events that partner with the surrounding community or another partner within the community
  • Main Street Oakland County—communities involved in the Main Street Approach, a national program of a unique economic-development strategy that focuses on leveraging existing social, economic, physical, and cultural assets to energize community revitalization efforts and help manage success for the long term.

A Community Service RAPP grant provides up to two outreach programs, such as Get Outdoors! Cache and Get Outdoors! Fish; adventures and inflatables; and one nature education, plus one bus trip. OCPR Recreation Program Supervisor John Haney says the available programs may be changed year to year based on Parks and Recreation Commission initiatives as new equipment and events are added.

New Component Success
Last year, a nature component was added. The requests for nature programs doubled from 20 to 40 this year. “Judging by how many communities and agencies that booked last year have booked again this year, I would say that our nature services are a hit with participants young and young at heart,” Lynn Conover, Recreation Program Supervisor/Naturalist, says.

The nature component offers:

  • Nature discovery outreach—an interactive nature talk complete with interesting objects (skins, skulls and more), along with live reptiles or amphibians; this opportunity takes place at a patron's site (day camp, library, community center, etc.).
  • Starlab—a portable, inflatable planetarium that brings the wonders of the night sky to day camps, libraries, community centers, etc.
  • Field trip to OCPR’s Red Oaks or Wint nature centers—with an interactive nature talk, guided hike, and time to explore exhibits.

“The naturalist staff looks forward to sharing their love, knowledge, and enthusiasm for the natural world, whenever given the chance,” she says. “Groups who visit the nature centers through RAPP field trips bring a whole new set of visitors to enjoy what the staff, natural environment, and the building have to offer. On each and every outreach, we make a point of inviting participants to visit the nature centers to further their nature knowledge through exhibits, trails programs, and more.”

“It's wonderful to give kids the opportunity to have an up-close experience with nature, whether in a presentation or out in the woods,” Naturalist Sarah Hudson says. “Some of the children who come to the nature center have never been in the woods before.”

Haney says the grants generally offer programs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but OCPR is extending them to the spring and fall this year as many events are planned. “We want to reach as many communities as we can that don’t have the funds to do events on their own. We want to give kids opportunities they would not otherwise have without RAPP,” he says.

One recent example was a trip to a Detroit Tigers baseball game for a group of children from Pontiac, where the per capita income is $15,842 and 22.1 percent of the population is below the poverty line. The RAPP grant provides bus transportation for the 30-mile trip to the stadium in downtown Detroit, a city most had never been to and to an event they might not experience again.

Take Our Word
“The Charter Township of Royal Oak Parks and Recreation Department is extremely grateful to the services received from Oakland County Parks,” Hiram Harris, Director of Royal Oak Township Parks and Recreation says. “The RAPP Program has made it possible for a modest Southeastern Oakland County community to provide quality recreational programming to the children, young adults, and senior citizens who reside in our community.”

“RAPP provides our children and community with access to opportunities that they would not otherwise have,” Hazel Park Director of Recreation Sareen Papakhian says. As an underprivileged community, Hazel Park relies on the vital programming that RAPP provides. We are endlessly grateful.”

“Since West Bloomfield doesn’t have an Oakland County park within its borders, the RAPP program is a great way for OCPR to gain exposure with our residents that help fund their park system and programs (through a countywide tax),” Ashley Stokes, West Bloomfield Recreation Programmer and Camp Administrator, says.

Community Collaboration
In addition to individual communities, OCPR’s mobile recreation unit is usually part of a dozen or more large-scale community collaborative events each year. Under this part of the RAPP grant, the community hosting the event must join with another community or partner within the community. “For the community collaborative events, we asked that we be treated as a sponsor,” Haney says. “For example, if we supply $3,000 in staff and equipment, we ask for the benefits afforded to someone at the $3,000 sponsorship level.”

The third category eligible for a RAPP grant is the Event Outreach available to communities under the Main Street Oakland County Program, which is part of a national economic-development program for downtowns, with a historic-preservation philosophy and an emphasis on “sense of place.” The idea is to help local governments develop their downtowns as vibrant, successful districts that serve as the heart of their communities.

For a county that is rural to the northern border and densely populated to the south, RAPP ensures that recreational needs throughout Oakland County are met.

Pat Brockway is a technical assistant with Oakland County (Mich.) Parks and Recreation. She can be reached at brockwayp@oakgov.com.