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Feature Article - January 2019
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Better Together

Partnerships for Program Success

By Rick Dandes


Back to School

Many universities these days have a center for community engagement or centers for service learning, said VanSickle, of the University of Indianapolis. Those centers are designed to bring faculty members and community members together to find projects that are beneficial for students and that give something back to the community.

Sometimes a recreational program will make so much sense to a partner that people will want to work with you to help make it happen.

"Community organizations like YMCAs and parks and recreation can say to the university, 'We have opportunities for you that students can get a learning experience that enriches both.'

"At our university," VanSickle added, "We have done some things with our local parks and recreation where we do programming or fall break camps and spring break camp for low-income kids, and generally the camps are free or low-cost. My students will plan them and put them on under the direction of someone at that park center. Students get to learn about event planning and management, and the park gets a camp run by college students."

Service learning is something that has taken off during the past 10 years, VanSickle said, "Especially at liberal arts schools. Reach out to them; these service centers are all about putting people together to find projects for volunteer opportunities."

Avoid or Overcome Challenges

There can be many bumps in the road when forging a partnership, said Seigel, of SEDA-COG. "One is that communities that are challenged more and more to provide services with less and less funds are always somewhat apprehensive about assuming the long-term responsibility of a recreation facility. That challenge is exacerbated by the fact that the vandalism and mistreatment of public facilities seems to be on the rise. Those two things combine to make a difficult decision sometimes for a municipality."

Any other challenge you run into is finding the funding. If you qualify for a government grant, you often need to identify the match. You'll need to meet the requirements of the grant, and develop the program in such a way that it satisfies both the community need and the funding agency requirements.

Some of the challenges in Dallas, being a large municipality, is that there are steps to becoming a partner, Ross explained. "We have a lot of people who may knock on the door and want to partner with us, but there is a process," she said.

"Partners do need to go through our park and recreation board and, depending upon the term of the partnership, it may need to go to counsel. There is the approval process, which for some entities is discouraging. We are trying to streamline processes so that it is not intimidating to potential partners because we know we can do so much more when we have different agencies and corporations partnering with us. I do think many times the process of becoming a partner can be a bit daunting."

It is not as easy as just handing over $100,000, Ross said. Many things go on behind the scenes that partners may not be aware of.

"We are trying to educate, trying to share information as best we can through our park board members, and through how we advertise, and how we communicate to the public," she said.

Be sure to find a good fit, VanSickle said, "It's about finding the right organization to work with. It is important for someone in the recreation field to outline before they even start looking: What is it that I want to achieve? What do I want to accomplish? And what am I willing to do to make this happen?"

For a good partnership to happen, VanSickle said, "Communication is key. What are the expectations? What program will I deliver as the community partner to the school, for example? And if I am the faculty member what will I deliver, and what do I expect of the partner? What can I bring to the table, and then what are my needs and what will I deliver?

"Those communications have to happen, maybe in the form of a memorandum of understanding to make clear the scope of the project. Having something in writing can help eliminate some misunderstandings. Unfulfilled expectations, I have found, are the biggest barriers to success in this type of partnership."

Johnson believes there is no hurdle that cannot be overcome.

"In my mindset," he said, "there will always be huge challenges, but it just takes people with the right mindset to overcome them. Funding is a major problem for us, and the other one is just being a municipality. We have rules that have to be followed."

Johnson is "one of those folks who push the limit and push the line and challenge the status quo. If there is a challenge, I still look for ways to make it work. Don't start with a negative attitude. I have found that sometimes a recreational program will make so much sense to a partner that people will want to work with you to help make it happen."