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Feature Article - September 2017

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Parks

Planning, Programming and Staffing to Better Serve All Residents

By Chris Gelbach


Finding community leaders who are themselves passionate about parks and the outdoors is particularly beneficial. "If there's somebody the community already trusts in place, whether it's a priest or physician or a business owner who believe in the mission and vision of the recreation department, now you've got a conduit," said Juan Caraveo, diversity and inclusion consultant for USA Swimming. "Now you've got an advocate in that community who's going to be a voice to promote your programing."

When engaging underserved communities through programming, it's also important to focus on offering high-quality, high-value programs. Caraveo sees a few common barriers preventing underserved communities from learning to swim, for instance. "What our business development department found is that lack of access to the physical pool is not as prevalent as the expense of the programming—maybe they're priced out of those communities," Caraveo said.

In fact, while USA Swimming research has shown that 64 percent of African-American, 45 percent of Hispanic/Latino and 40 percent of Caucasian children have little to no swimming ability, 79 percent of children overall who live in households with incomes less than $50,000 have little to no swimming ability. But providing affordable swimming instruction is not enough.

Over the past two years of travel at the grassroots level as part of his job, Caraveo has also learned through speaking to many families that the quality of the programming is also a barrier. "I've had multiple conversations with families in the park, and I've asked them, 'Do you take your kids to swim?' And they say, 'Yeah, I took them to the city swim lessons. We stopped because we had 10 kids in the class and there was a 16-year-old who had no idea what they were doing teaching the lessons.'"

According to Caraveo, these families say that money is tight, but that they're willing to pay if the programming is good. "I think it would be in the interest of rec departments to really do an inventory of their programs," he said. He recommends evaluating both the pre-hiring and ongoing professional development of staff, whether the department even looks at swim teachers as a professional position, and at student-teacher ratios to make sure they're acceptable. "And ask perhaps the biggest question: If I had a child, would I want my kid to be in that lesson?" Caraveo said.