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Agency Spotlight: City of Bloomington Parks and Recreation

"Parks and Recreation: Behind the Fun and Games"

By: Mercedez McDowell

Kim Ecenbarger3 Kim Ecenbarger and ACE Amber Trusty Swings, slides, and chalked boxes wait still on a Saturday morning. As the sun rises a teenaged girl awakens the swings. By 9 o'clock the slides are occupied by two toddler siblings and their parents. An hour passes, and children's feet jump in and out of the chalked boxes. The community busies itself around the City's new park: all made possible by the Parks and Recreation Department.

The City of Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department obviously has a background in successful park management. However, Special Services Coordinator Kim Ecenbarger said, "People think of Parks and Recreation as just parks, sports and camps, but we have a 50 page program guide distributed three times per year that appeals to everyone." Featured in this year's program guide are opportunities for after-school programming, mentoring, environmental involvement and more. Ecenbarger calls it a "one stop shop."

"Tell me something you're interested in, and I bet you'll find a place for it here," Ecenbarger said. Volunteers can either make a one-day or ongoing commitment. Short term volunteers are usually setting up for events, maintaining trails, or greeting guests for a community event. In contrast, ongoing volunteers commit to a weekly schedule in their field of interest. In both circumstances, volunteers are supported through teamwork and rewarded by seeing the effect they have on the community.Kim Ecenbarger1 Kim Ecenbarger takes a break to smile for the camera!

Aside from working with staff, placing more than 1,000 volunteers every year, and tracking those volunteers' hours, Ecenbarger is also in charge of recognition. Once a month, programmers nominate volunteers for the "Bravo Award." The award recognizes the volunteer who has gone above and beyond expectations to serve the community. The recipient is featured in the Herald-Times and presented the award at a televised Board of Park Commissioners meeting. "The Bravo Award is a feel-good part of my job," Ecenbarger said.

Some advice for volunteer coordinators:
Ecenbarger tells volunteer coordinators not to take on their responsibilities alone. "We are the point people," Ecenbarger said, "but train your team as much as possible because it's impossible to be at every event." If the coordinator isn't present, the party must go on. "Educating your staff to communicate, coordinate, and know the importance of volunteers in your organization," is vital.

Some advice for volunteers:
Although it's unpaid, volunteers should take their volunteerism seriously. "It not only benefits the organization," Ecenbarger said, "but there's a sense of accomplishment and purpose to being involved." Be proactive, offering your expertise and suggestions. Ecenbarger said, "Coordinators sometimes lose sight of the freshness of events, and the perspective of newcomers gives them new ideas." Of all the advice for volunteers, though, Ecenbarger stressed the importance of volunteers to give 100 percent. Who knows? Maybe you can become the next "Bravo Award" recipient!