Across The Pond

By Mathew Eberius

Last December, my wife and I took a trip to Europe and made our home base the beautiful city of Dublin, Ireland. We had been there previously and enjoyed the culture, the food, and the historical sites within the city. Being a leisure professional, I try to stay near a park, or at least within walking distance. At this particular time, after passing several recreation facilities, I made contact with Trevor Higgins, a Senior Community Officer and Area Manager for Dublin City Council and one of the management members for the Culture, Recreation and Amenity Department.

With a population of more than half a million people, Dublin sits on the east coast of Ireland and offers something for every kind of traveler. The Culture, Recreation and Amenity Department is usually not found on a tourist’s itinerary, so I was pleased to get an insider’s look as someone from an overseas recreation department.

Mingling With The Locals
After a couple of email exchanges, Trevor picked me up from the hotel and we set off for some of the recreation facilities in the area, where we would meet staff members and see the programming offered to its residents. We visited several facilities (leisure centres), including the Darndale-Belcamp Recreation Centre, which included an extensive youth activity area, a gymnasium, park space, and a complete boxing ring.

I was able to speak to the staff members, exchange ideas for programs, and offer my opinion on some program and event ideas. Over the four-hour journey across much of Dublin, I saw kids interacting, social groups meeting, staff members working on future programs, and recreation facilities being used by the community members. One thing came to mind, “We’re doing the same thing.” When we look to ideas for programs or trends in social activities, so many of us always look in the same places—our local friends and the agencies surrounding us. But we haven’t been reaching out internationally; I was surprised to see the same issues, the same concerns, and the same programming structures in Ireland as we have right in our own backyards in the United States.

Let Kids Be Kids
In a previous article for PRB, I noted that managing youth programs rested on one philosophy: “Let kids be kids.” It was encouraging to hear the same words from Trevor, who takes a lead role in providing social interaction and services to the leisure facilities he helps manage. He, too, had said, “We do more with less,” and shared many of the same ideals and philosophies that we in the States have. One of the facilities we toured was shared with a social-housing project, used for many social services for the community; in another, sports teams gathered for a competitive game of soccer; in another, a group of kids met for an after-school program.

These facilities were dealing with the same issues we have:

  • Keeping youth out of trouble
  • Providing low-income assistance
  • Providing meals
  • Providing a safe haven for kids and adults
  • Providing much-needed lifelong learning in the form of classes, programs, and workshops.

Many of these facilities also hosted community organizations that work to improve their surroundings and those who live in the community.

Create A Community
We all want communities to be safe, fun, and progressive. We want kids to grow up and learn the valuable skills they need to survive in the real world. It was encouraging to see that, in a world full of horrible news, wars, and economic depression, recreation professionals provide the same fabric that helps connect communities with places where we can grow, learn and play—no matter the culture, the background, or social status. We’re all doing this for the same reason.

Trevor, who has come to be one of my friends, corresponds with me regularly via email. We share stories of programs, events, and interesting projects that each department is working on. Recently, he and one of his colleagues joined the Florida Recreation & Park Association, and the Dublin City Council allowed them to travel here to learn and network with professionals from across the southern United States. As a result, Trevor has partnered with the city of Orlando, which shares many of the same social and demographic statistics as Dublin, to work on projects and share ideas.

This shows we can work together, put aside differences, and be the change we want to see in our individual backyards. And it all starts with extending a hand and introducing ourselves.

 When we say, “It Starts in Parks,” we truly mean it.

Mathew Eberius, CPRP, CPO is the chariman of the Pinellas County Parks & Conservation Advisory Committee and Vice President of the Florida Recreation & Park Association. He can be reached at Matthew@AmericanHeritageGroup.net.