A vision for today: recreation and leisure services

Marcia J. Carter

The parks and recreation movement was born out of changes resulting from the industrial revolution in the 1800s (Jarvi, 1993). The profession emanated from citizen’s efforts to address social issues that impacted on the moral fiber of their communities. Some of those same problems exist today and are intensified by economic fluctuations, constant reorganization, altered legislative mandates, changing demographics, and various health care priorities (Jarvi, 1993). Issues that sparked the development of the Boston Sandgardens, Central Park and Hull House are cause for revisiting and reassessing our roots, our mission and the leadership necessary to address constituents’ needs today.

This article considers prevailing social issues and resulting professional challenges to leisure service professionals. Careful reexamination of citizens’ needs suggests service delivery should focus on enhancing fundamental life skills for individuals and overall community well-being. Leisure service professionals should first decide which personal and social issues are viable professional priorities. Then take steps to develop skills and abilities in individuals that will contribute to personal enhancement, and thus, impact community well-being. We will present a scenario outlining management decisions and leadership roles that has been successfully implemented to resolve issues detrimental to individual and community well-being.

Prevailing Social Issues

Since the 1970s economic, political, demographic, and technological changes

and advancements have contributed to a number of emerging social issues. Increased federal deficits, competition for “fewer dollars” and eroding tax bases have created an economic pinch that has forced the reorganization and reprioritization of health and human services (Jarvi, 1993; McCormick, 1991). In addition, persons living in cities’ inner cores have been left with minimum wage employment options and tightened eligibility standards for supplemental services (Carter, VanAndel, and Robb, 1995).

As our society ages, economic divisions become more apparent. The fastest growing age cohort is 85 and over. Persons within this group are among the poorest and have the highest medical bills (Carter, Van Andel, and Robb, 1995). Since 1975, poverty has also been increasing among children under age five more than any other age cohort. Although, political and legislative actions [e.g., Public Law 101-476, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Pubic Law 101-336, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)] have reemphasized social integration, persons with lifelong disabilities seek training, employment and supportive services in communities with fewer personal and community resources (Carter, VanAndel, and Robb, 1995). The baby-boom generation has the largest number of adults with lifelong disabilities (four of every 100) who will age with their disabilities and the limited support of either caregivers or formal senior adult service networks (Carter, VanAndel, and Robb, 1995).

Technological advances, while enhancing life for some, have contributed to stress and frustration for others. Medical advancements have enabled persons with life-threatening illnesses and traumatic injuries (e.g., cancer and spinal cord injuries) to live out their lives in communities. Workers may experience un- and under-employment in a service economy created by technological advancement (Carter, Van Andel and Robb, 1995).

Social issues are created when individuals seek to satisfy unmet needs in ways that are detrimental to themselves and the communities in which they live. Substance abuse is highest among teenagers and is increasing among women, children and older adults. It is also a primary or contributory factor to circumstances of persons who are homeless, carry the HIV virus, are physically abusive to others, or are dual-diagnosed as persons with mental illness and addiction (Carter, VanAndel and Robb, 1995).

The number of Americans affecting or being affected by crime increases daily and predictions suggest the number of persons on parole in communities will increase more rapidly than those incarcerated. By the year 2000, the number of persons under supervision within the community may surpass four million with expenditures exceeding $40 billion annually (Carter, VanAndel and Robb, 1995).

Domestic violence and abuse along with neglect of children are increasing in America’s families. One of four females and one of seven males are sexually abused before the age of 18. Nearly half of the children abused or neglected annually are deprived of basic necessities such as shelter and food (Carter, VanAndel and Robb, 1995).

These social trends–now and in the future–present challenges that extend beyond current leisure programs, areas and facilities. Persons with chronic and severe limitations, aging adults, children in poverty, those who have experienced abuse/neglect, un- and under-employed, homeless, and legal offenders present a diversity of unmet needs similar to those that gave birth to the leisure services profession. Current needs include life skills training, diversion from daily oppression, catharsis, physical development and wellness, community involvement, cultural understanding, family unity, and coordination of services (Jarvi, 1993).

Leisure service professionals, working with increasingly limited resources and demands for increased accountability, are faced with resolving issues that become more difficult as the pace of change accelerates. We are challenged to articulate a mission that addresses barriers to individual and community quality of life (McCormick, 1991). This mission incorporates linkages to human and social services that contribute to holistic health and optimal life skill development (Godbey, 1991). It unites leisure service professionals and enables us to form strategic alliances to solve problems and share resources.

Maslow’s need hierarchy provides a tool for leisure service professionals to create a mission and craft a plan that contributes to enhanced individual and community quality of life. In this hierarchy, when needs of greater potency–physiological, safety, or love–are satisfied, the next higher order needs–esteem and self-actualization–emerge as motivators. Thus, as need fulfillment is achieved, optimal satisfaction or self-actualization is more likely to result. Then quality of life is enhanced for both the individual and the community. To achieve need fulfillment, an individuals” functional life skills must be fully developed. When functional life skills are developed, personal needs are met, community well-being is enhanced.

Leisure experiences that enhance functional life skills promote individual development, need fulfillment and optimal satisfaction (Godbey, 1991; Iso-Ahola and Weissinger, 1984). Through participation in leisure activities, social, spiritual, physical, psychological, and intellectual skills are improved so individuals are better able to develop their capabilities. The outcomes of these experiences are essential to well-being (e.g., satisfaction, freedom and self-actualization) as purported in Maslow’s hierarchy (Iso-Ahola and Weissinger, 1984).

Leisure service professionals are challenged to affirm the contribution made by our services to individuals’ functional life skills enhancement and community well-being. Our mission extends beyond providing activities and facilities. It is essential that we link with other community health and human services professionals. We should be interactive leisure service providers who solicit active involvement from constituents and various human and health services professionals to secure resources and expertise to address human needs and underdeveloped skills.

Professional Practice

Professional practice should be driven by our constituents’ needs; the satisfaction and well-being of our participants are cornerstones of what we do. By using participatory management, we can incorporate service providers and participants in a strategic planning processes. As professionals, we can focus on individualizing experiences through direct leadership, facilitation, education, and referral. Through community networks, professionals and participants can communicate and coordinate so both services and resources become available. Alliances among leisure service professionals and other human and social service fields–education, mental health, aging and youth serving agencies, private enterprise, and the religious community–are formalized to problem-solve around constituents expressed needs and available community resources.

Leisure service professionals should incorporate constituents and colleagues in program development and implementation to ensure a safety net that promotes well-being for individuals and the community. Directly and indirectly professionals should support collaborative planning, a cyclical process that allows for ongoing efforts to align needs with resources.

The planning cycle involves a number of action steps. First, needs assessments are conducted to determine life skills and community well-being. Professionals identify skill limitations and make recommendations on how to best meet needs and properly use resources to improve community life. In the second phase of the model–planning leisure experiences–leisure services professionals and health and human services personnel plan with constituents those experiences that will enhance aspects of their lives where there are known deficits. Professionals encourage constituents to make decisions and choices about what they will commit to improve so they are more likely to make the investment necessary to change. Forming alliances with peer professionals like social workers, probation officers and rehabilitation counselors benefit both individuals and communities.

During the next phase–implementation–individuals engage in structured experiences to meet identified needs with active intervention from leisure service professionals and supportive community agents. Professionals then empower constituents by encouraging problem-solving and responsibility for change and enhanced skills. Through formal and informal leisure education and awareness experiences, constituents are encouraged to become advocates for the fulfillment of their needs. Through referrals, professionals link constituents to supportive resources and encourage continuation of skill development.

A key to empowerment is processing. Professionals should facilitate self-assessments, reviews, de-briefing sessions, and formal discussions in order to make constituents aware of those accomplishments and functional developments that contribute to life satisfaction and self-actualization. Processing experiences help constituents link with other community agents and leisure opportunities that promote community well-being. Networks are formalized to problem-solve around constituents’ expressed needs and available community resources are mobilized to promote community well–being. Lastly, community professionals–through networks-gauge the outcomes of their interventions according to individual and community quality of life (Brown, 1995).

A specific example of how one community used this planning model to address individual and community needs is shared below (Keller, 1990). Both individuals and the community were enhanced through the process and outcomes of this leisure program (see Figure 2).

Step 1: Conducting Needs Assessment

A southern, rural community school district recognized an increase in its number of latchkey teenagers. At the same time, a senior center–operated by the parks and recreation department–found a limited number of opportunities and experiences for its older adults, who wished to remain active, contributing community members. Intervention with these two groups was critical. Older adults are valuable community resources with many life skills to share. Teenagers are at a point in their lives when they learn values and attitudes that will remain with them. Older adults needed to feel useful and continue to be active in their community, while latchkey teenagers needed mentors and guidance as they acquire and apply their values and morals. Meeting the needs of individuals within these two groups would make this community, as a whole, healthier.

Step 2: Planning Leisure Experience

The local public school system and municipal parks and recreation department developed an intergenerational exchange program, Teens and Elderly for the Arts (TEA). They established a planning and advisory committee consisting of three teenagers, two older adults, a senior adult recreation program coordinator, and a counselor from the middle school to design the program format. This committee was also responsible for creating the program’s goals and objectives; designing and implementing the program; and promoting and encouraging participation. Active constituent involvement in the planning encouraged their investment in the program and its outcomes.

Step 3: Implementing Structured Experiences

TEA Time used older adults as volunteers to instruct and mentor latchkey teenagers. Older adults were interviewed by the TEA Time advisory committee as potential volunteers/mentors. The advisory committee (with help from public school officials) sent program introduction letters to all parents and students at the middle and high schools, inviting them to attend an information session on this intergenerational exchange program.

After a great deal of discussion, it was decided that older adults would share their folk arts and crafts skills with the teenagers. The teens, for the most part, had not experienced these crafts. The skills taught included making candles, canning, caning chairs, making pine straw baskets, weaving, and whittling. Twelve older adults and 49 teenagers were involved in the first session.

Step 4: Empowering Constituents

To help fulfill individual needs, constituents needed to feel they were able to make and enact their own decisions; leisure service professionals can help evoke this feeling through problem solving, education, and referrals. While volunteer older adult instructors were offered activities by the advisory committee, they were also encouraged to initiate individual or small group projects based upon teenagers’ individual needs or interests. For example, the whittling instructor was challenged by three young men, who informed him that his program was boring. He, in turn, inquired what they would like to do. With great enthusiasm, they said that duck hunting was a favorite activity. The instructor indicated he would like to help them get ready for their duck hunting trips and their project became carving and crafting lifelike de coys. The boys became eager participants.

Step 5: Processing Experiences

Leisure service professionals need to take time for group sharing of successes and problems associated with their programs. This sharing, or processing, adds to constituents’ development of functional skills and quality of life. By sharing outcomes of experiences, constituents develop intellectual and psychological awareness of abilities and social competence. As outcomes are shared, values are crystallized. Sharing also enables group members to recognize and reward each other’s successes. This improves the constituents’ perceptions of their skills, which leads to enhanced quality of life and optimal satisfaction.

During one session, a young man involved in TEA Time reflected, “Life was all mixed up, no one understood; it is not settled, but my older friends here care and try to understand.” A 76-year-old weaving instructor reported, “I thought it was tough being old today; its a snap compared to being young.” Through reflection and processing, both young and old people became more aware of the diversity among people of all ages and began to recognize that every individual is unique and can make a worthwhile contribution to society.

TEA Time participants and instructors met once every semester to formally process their experiences in terms of the program’s purpose and how to achieve it more effectively. In addition, topics that may affect interaction between the two generations–death, substance abuse, respect, communication, conflict resolution, aging processes, and instructing and learning–were presented and processed.

While TEA Time was a collaborative effort between the local school and municipal parks and recreation department, professionals from other areas of the community were needed to help serve the constituents. This type of networking is a means of extending limited resources in order to address individual and community well-being.

In one example, a young male was caught stealing a car after school. Social workers, school counselors and police officials worked with him and his family to get him enrolled in TEA Time. This young man began working with the basket weaving instructor and soon became an avid participant and program supporter. At the end of the school year, the community held a large arts and crafts festival where this young man collected nearly $450 from the sale of his hand-woven baskets. He later exclaimed to his instructor and school counselor, “This is fantastic. I have exactly what my brother is asking for his car. I’ll see you both next week and give you a ride!” The networking enriched this young man’s life and created a better community.

Step 6: Evaluating

Program evaluation should occur in a systematic manner in order to provide relevant information for future decision making. The evaluation needs to involve constituents, coordinators, providers of services, and program administrators, and should address individual and community satisfaction and well-being.

TEA Time used a structured evaluation which was given to teenagers and older adults after they completed a semester with the program. A few few the evaluation findings were:

— The majority of TEA Time participants deepened their appreciation for persons of different ages.

— The majority of older adults felt more useful and indicated they learned new ideas.

— All participants rated the overall program effectiveness as excellent or good, as did the school and recreation administrators.

— The more individualized the interactions between young and old, the higher the level of satisfaction with the program by both age groups.

Persons involved indicated that, overall, the program brought together latchkey teenagers and older adults for satisfying experiences while exchanging folk arts and craft skills. Thus, the TEA Time program appeared to address individual and community needs. Older adults indicated they felt useful and were more active members of society; teenagers were given mentoring and guidance; the community became healthier because of intergenerational sharing of ideas, knowledge and skills.

Recreation and leisure services is an evolving and changing field. Communities are challenged by social issues on a daily basis. Leisure service professionals are well-positioned–using the leisure service outcome model along with the suggested planning process–to enhance fundamental life skills and community well-being. The suggested planning processes encourages participants to make decisions and act in ways that promote fulfillment and satisfaction so that functioning within the community is enhanced. Healthy leisure and life behaviors improve the moral fiber and well-being of community life.

There is no panacea to resolve all social and leisure services challenges, but by looking back to the roots of the recreation and leisure services movement, we can identify some solutions that work. If we refocus our mission and leadership to address common social issues, we can ally professionals with ether community change agents.

These alliances result in safety nets that ensure service continuity and access to increasingly limited resources. We must take a stand along with those health and human services agencies in our communities to contribute to the betterment of our citizens and enhancement of our community welfare.



Brown, K. H. (1995). Alternatives Through Interagency Collaboration. Leisure Today, 11 -13.

Carter, M. J., VanAndel, G.E., and Robb, G.M. (1995). Therapeutic Recreation:A Practical Approach (2nd. ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

Godbey, G. (1991). Redefining Public Parks and Recreation. Parks and Recreation, 26(10), 56-61, 74-75.

Iso-Ahola, S. E., and Weissinger, E. (1984). Leisure and Well-Being: Is There a Connection? Parks and Recreation, 18(6), 40-44.

Keller, M. J. (1990). Intergenerational Sharing: Teens and Elderly for the Arts (Tea). Journal of Applied Gerontology, 9(3), 312-324.

Jarvi, C. K. (1993). Leaders Who Meet Today’s Changing Needs. Parks and Recreation, 28(3), 60-64, 162-163.

McCormick, S. (1991). Parks and Recreation + Social Change = the Future. Parks and Recreation, 26(3), 30-35, 142-143.

COPYRIGHT 1996 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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