Feature Article - June 2007
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Building Active, Involved Communities

"The world of fitness is expanding to be much more than a room with weight and cardio machines," he said. "It's about multipurpose rooms. It's the Pilates, the tai chi and karate—whatever the park district is doing that is part of fitness. People may not want to build a fitness center or programs for fitness, but we have a problem with obesity and poor health within the demographics of the population. We've got to be out there saying this is the right thing to do."

Another important consideration when adding fitness programs is ensuring you have the right staff, properly trained.

"I think one of the real important things that has to be done when you expand programs like fitness is to make sure that you hire qualified staff to run the programs—people who have the right training, certifications and backgrounds," explained Seidler, who is well-versed in risk management. "All too often, we see them hire somebody with an English degree. It used to be that you wanted to hire somebody who looked good in spandex, and that's got to change. We need to hire people who have degrees in exercise science or related fields, and certifications with the well-respected organizations in the field."

The third most common program option park facilities are planning to add were specialized programs directed at teen audiences. According to the TPL's Center for Parks and Health, teens who said they did not have access to a safe park, playground or open space were significantly more likely not to engage in any physical activity compared to teens who had access to such settings. And the Active Living Network reports that more than one-third of teens in grades 9 to 12 do not exercise at least 20 minutes a day, three times a week. Reaching these teens with fitness options in particular, is one way to help address problems of childhood obesity.

Atilano said that when he works on fitness areas, he tells clients that it's not just about cardio equipment.

"The things we're suggesting are youth areas and spaces for youth fitness," he said. "In most fitness centers, the youth can't go on the fitness floor. As you try to have a community center that's family-focused, if your son or daughter can go with you, work out and understand the value of that, it's going to become a driver for getting more people into the facility."

Other teen programs provide an opportunity to socialize—through hip-hop dance classes or special gatherings—or show off their skills through contests like a battle of the bands or talent show. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Department of Parks and Recreation, Prince George's County held its 5th Annual Xtreme Teen Rising Star Vocal Showcase recently at the University of Maryland. From an initial 225 candidates, the competition was whittled down to 15 pre-teen finalists and nine teen finalists, who prepared for two months for the final showdown.