Feature Article - February 2019
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Expanding Access

Inclusion & Diversity Outreach Boosts Participation

By Dave Ramont


Parks for New Portlanders (PNP), a program initiated by PP&R, works to provide recreation opportunities for immigrant and refugee communities. They work with city leaders and community partners to design culturally relevant programs, ensuring that services and spaces are welcoming and accessible to communities of color, new immigrants and refugees. They host sporting events like Portland World Cup Soccer and the Intercultural Basketball Tournament.

PNP also brings together 10 community youth ambassadors who are local leaders, community experts and speak 15 different languages besides English. They advocate, organize and engage families and assist PP&R in identifying barriers and challenges related to parks services for new Portlanders.

The program is having a tremendous impact in bridging a connection and increasing the understanding in refugee and immigrant communities, according to Hendricks. "In many ways, young refugee and immigrant people serve as an effective bridge to the parents, grandparents and extended family in their integration into our community," he said. "It's universal that parents have a keen interest in the well-being of their children, but given the gap in culture and language, it's difficult for the adults to navigate our system. The youth ambassadors provide a great entry into increasing understanding and connection."

Portland has also created an Office of Equity and Human Rights (OEHR), with which Hendricks collaborates. Their mission is to "provide education and technical support to city staff and elected officials, leading to recognition and removal of systemic barriers to fair and just distribution of resources, access and opportunity, starting with issues of race and disability."

Other groups within OEHR include the Portland Commission on Disability, the Human Rights Commission and Black Male Achievement Portland. Their Civil Rights Program is designed to remove barriers and conditions that prevent underserved groups from accessing programs and services.

Gender Equity in L.A.

More and more public agencies and community organizations are adopting gender equity as one of their core values. In Los Angeles, the Department of Recreation and Parks have adopted a gender equity policy with the purpose of involving more girls in sports and recreation programs by undertaking measures to encourage their participation. Other goals of the policy include improving the representation of women assigned to the administration of sports and rec programs, as well as on citywide and regional sports boards; increasing the number of female referees, coaches, instructors and mentors; ensuring the department is equitable in its distribution of resources for all youth; and subsidizing participation where economic barriers exist.

Discrimination still exists for some populations when it comes to access to public parks and park programming, including minority groups and immigrants, low-income populations, LGBTQ communities and those with physical and cognitive disabilities.

Francisca Castillo, director of Gender Equity Affairs with the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, works to ensure that the department's policies and practices on gender equity are adhered to. She believes that the goal of recreation industry professionals is to enhance the quality of people's lives through the services they provide, transforming communities for the better and healing communities through recreation and play. "In underserved communities where crime and homelessness is prevalent and lack of resources exist, it's important to encourage participation and keep community members active."

California was the first state in the nation to implement a law (AB 2024) prohibiting discrimination against any person on the basis of sex or gender in community youth athletics programs or in the allocation of parks and recreation facilities and resources. Charles Singer, superintendent of Recreation Services at LA Parks, said that while gender equity is a state law there, he finds that the rest of the country is lagging. "Many female executives that have provided trainings in gender-inclusive sports, empowerment and career opportunities believe that there is a direct correlation between youth sports and executive careers," Singer said. "If true, the more gender-inclusive sports programs in youth might prepare women for leadership roles as executives."

Castillo said that while she's noticed more area parks departments embracing gender equity, it's not at the same capacity as Los Angeles, where gender equity is a core value not just for parks, but for the city as a whole. "When focusing on gender equity, it can reveal potential program gaps. These program gaps can provide opportunities for new and exciting programs for communities. It also increases community involvement and bonding."

One initiative that Castillo oversees is the Girls Play Los Angeles (GPLA) program, which is focused on girls' sports throughout the department's most underserved communities. The program fees are subsidized so that all girls can participate, regardless of economic inequalities or cultural barriers. Castillo said that the popular program has taken the city by storm, and is currently located at 100 recreation centers. "The program strives to get and keep girls physically active and living a healthy lifestyle, while making friends, building self-esteem and having fun."

Castillo also explained that while they recruit and train both men and women for leadership positions such as volunteer coaches and officials, they go the extra mile to recruit women, as research has shown that young girls gravitate to female role models. "In addition to GPLA, the Women Officials Recruitment Certificate (WORC) program trains women to become certified sports officials," said Castillo, citing a citywide shortage of officials. "Once a student graduates from the program, she is able to become an independent contractor of Los Angeles and officiate at any of our 120-plus recreation centers."

The Fair Play for Girls in Sports Information Toolkit, available for anyone to use, has also been a great resource, according to Castillo. Singer added that for any parks department interested in starting a youth gender equity program, the toolkit is the most user-friendly guide for success. "Francisca and her team have taken this show on the road to NRPA and CPRS (California Park and Recreation Society) with great reviews," he said.