Feature Article - February 2010
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Generation Recreation

From Multigenerational to Intergenerational Programming

By Daniel P. Smith

Tina Fleming need not look any further than the Gwinnett County (Georgia) Parks and Recreation mission statement to know that multigenerational programming is not an option.

"In partnership with our citizens," the statement begins, "Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation provides high quality, broad-based parks, facilities, programs and services creating a sense of community, enabling a safe and secure environment, and enhancing Gwinnett's quality of life."

"We go back to that mission statement over and over here," said Fleming, the organization's division director of operations, regarding the department's intense multigenerational programming efforts. "We need to provide a healthy, fun environment for everyone to enjoy and an environment that helps enhance the quality of life for people throughout this community."

In its current program catalog, aptly titled L.I.F.E. ("Leisure is for everyone"), one sees that the Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation department pays multigenerational programming more than lip service. With programs ranging from senior yoga to youth T-ball, the department's efforts crisscross generations and invite participation from all ages.

"Every group has its own interests, and it's our challenge, our mission, to make sure we're meeting those needs and expectations," Fleming said.

The same all-encompassing objective guides the Fox Valley Park District in Chicago's western suburbs, which aims to instill an appreciation for recreation and develop healthy lifestyles for people of all ages. Much like Gwinnett County, park district leaders in Fox Valley point to the organization's mission statement—"Enrich our community with fun, diverse, and safe park and recreation experiences," it reads—for motivation to institute a consistent multigenerational focus.

"It is the public that the park district is charged to serve, and in that service all ages are included," Fox Valley Park District Superintendent of Recreation Eric Lee Wilson said. "All residents are entitled to recreational activities, which includes the young and old. All ages are encouraged to enjoy programs, facilities, special events and green spaces because it is due to their financial support through fees and charges and local property tax that many of these amenities exist."

For most recreation, sports, fitness and community facilities and agencies,

multigenerational programming remains a crucial element in their efforts to support a diverse age base and showcase a given department's support of and commitment to the community.

"Everything we do here in Gwinnett County is citizen-driven," Fleming said, echoing the sentiments of many recreation directors across the country.

In Gwinnett County, the importance of multigenerational programming flows from the county's unified plan. In 2010, Gwinnett County will host approximately 800,000 residents, including the largest school-aged population in Georgia and over 100,000 seniors. By 2020, however, projections hold that seniors will outnumber the school-aged population. The data demands Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation leaders activate a well-rounded, flexible and open approach to programming.

"We're planning today for the present as well as the future," Fleming said. "If we lose this opportunity to provide a greater quality of life today, then the health and social element we're trying to reach is put in jeopardy."

Multigenerational programming that focuses on the present as well as the future is not a challenge unique to Gwinnett County, but rather one shared by communities and recreation departments throughout the country.

"Developing healthy lifestyles begins at an early age and lasts a lifetime. Those who experience these opportunities throughout a lifetime become advocates for the district through their support and continued participation," said Laurie Hoffman, director of recreation and communications for the Fox Valley Park District.

Tucked into mission statements and top-of-mind with decision-makers, multigenerational programming has much to do with the current and long-term success of recreation facilities and agencies, compelling many to ensure that programming for all ages remain a central focus and, in a growing trend, inspiring the creation of opportunities for intergenerational interaction and the benefits those activities deliver.