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Does Stafford Need a Rec Director?

Stafford, CT - July 3, 2024

At the Board of Selectmen's meeting on Wednesday, David G. Bachiochi, chairman of the Recreation Commission, told the selectmen that the commission would be releasing a community-wide survey to get an idea of what kinds of activities townspeople are interested in and whether or not the town would support hiring a recreation director. (Stay tuned for more on that!) Laura Lybarger was in the audience and said she thought the town needs a full-time person to manage recreation because it cannot fall entirely on volunteers.

A debate ensued because Selectman Kurt Vail disagreed. After listing all of the activities the town used to have, like adult softball and soccer leagues, he pointed out that the people in charge of little league and youth football are not clamoring for a recreation director.

Lybarger agreed there are plenty of opportunities for kids who want to play sports, but not enough for kids who are interested in other things or for adults. (For the record, Lybarger would like a local knitting class!)

This got me thinking about volunteerism in general. No one can disagree with Vail's point that local volunteers make a community great. The trouble is, there just aren't enough to go around.

You may notice that I occasionally (and passive-aggressively) point out how few people attend meetings, even town meetings, where all eligible electors can vote. Attendees have the ability to effect change at town meetings, but people still don't show up. Meanwhile, on the boards, I see the same faces over and over again. In fact, Vail brought this up back in December when the board had to (re)appoint members of certain commissions.

There are a few dozen people in town who are hugely engaged and thousands who say they are too busy to get involved in even the most tangential way.

We all understand that there are some people out there working long hours to make ends meet or work shifts incompatible with volunteering in the evenings, but what about the rest of them? The reality is that most of the people serving on the town's boards and commissions or volunteering to coach a team have a job. Vail himself has a full-time job and serves as our state representative in addition to his Selectman position. Selectman Rick Hartenstein is the superintendent of the town's Water Pollution Control Facility and the chair of the ARPA committee. I've seen Dr. David Mordasky come into the Planning & Zoning Commission straight from surgery and have to leave early for an emergency (and that's not even the only board he's on). I could go on and on.

Here's the thing about the idea of a recreation director, though: You could think about this position as the person whose job it is to recruit and organize volunteers. Sports organizations have a built-in pool of people to pull from—parents who want their kids to be able to play sports. But recreation is about so much more than youth sports.

When I was in my early 20s and lived in the Hartford area, I signed up for a kickboxing class through the town's recreation department. It was a discounted rate, but the class was at a local gym. I ended up becoming a member of that gym, so it was a great marketing ploy on the owner's part.

A few years before that, a couple of my friends spent their summers sitting outside the town's skatepark, ensuring parents signed waivers and that kids wore their helmets. There is a lot of support for a skatepark in Stafford (including from my husband, whose joints I worry about), but there just is not the manpower needed to find a place for it, design it, build it, and maintain/monitor it. (FYI, Tony Hawk started The Skatepark Project to help fund and build skateparks, so if you want to take this on, don't forget to check that resource out.)

When we were even younger, my friends and I often went to the town's "Coffee House," which was essentially just an empty old school (Staffordville School, I'm looking at you) where student bands played. You could buy food and drinks in the cafeteria, hang out in the art room doing crafts, play games in the gym, or find a dark corner to hang out with your friends. It was safe, clean, and a perfect third space for teens who did not yet have their licenses.

A full-time recreation director can do more than find new opportunities and organize programming; they could apply for grants to fund the kinds of projects and programs I mentioned above.

Soon, the Recreation Commission's survey will be available, and we will find out if the town thinks recreation is important enough to invest in. But, I'd like to remind you that when I was able to ask a state official how Stafford can attract more businesses, his immediate answer was to make it a place where people want to work and live. Recreational opportunities are part of economic development. You don't have to take my word for it; there is an entire report about the role of Parks & Recreation in the economic development of communities.


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