America’s local and regional public park agencies are a critical part of our economy. When spending at local and regional parks is combined with that of national and state parks, public parks are responsible for more than $200 billion in annual economic activity, according to research conducted by the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.
Investments in local and regional parks not only raise the standard of living in our neighborhoods, towns and cities—they also spark activity that can ripple throughout the economy. With this in mind, park districts play an important role in connecting all parts of our community as we work to become healthier: physically, mentally and economically.
At the Peoria Park District, we believe that:
- Diversity strengthens communities. Every day, our parks and recreation facilities help to bring people together, supporting relationships and developing respect for each other and nature. Environmental programs at Forest Park Nature Center and the Teams Course at Sommer Park give several thousand local students the chance to learn about nature and each other. Facilities like the Proctor and Franciscan recreation centers and the RiverPlex provide opportunities to meet others in the community and build stronger relationships with those around us. In addition, our annual cultural festivals—including Erin Feis, Oktoberfest, SoulFest, Fiesta en el Rio and IndiaFest—help to showcase the rich diversity of our community, using common ground like food and music.
- Diversity enriches educational experiences. We learn from those whose experiences, beliefs and perspectives are different from our own, and those lessons can be best taught in diverse environments. Through programs like Celebrate Peoria at the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum, we strive to showcase different cultures and traditions so we can all learn.
- Diversity enhances economic competitiveness. Financial constraint is a primary issue for nearly every governmental agency at every level. We are only as viable as the most in-need members of our population. The District is committed to efforts like the Moonlight Coalition for Adult Learning, which has helped more than 100 students across our service area achieve their GED in the last two years, giving them tools to get better jobs or continue their education. Every year, we hire hundreds of young people to serve in our parks, at our pools and in our camps. These jobs teach a work ethic that often shows itself when these individuals go on to serve our community in a myriad of ways. When speaking with many of our local leaders, you’ll often hear that their first jobs were with the Peoria Park District.
- Diversity promotes healthy communication skills. One does not have to go far to find the research-driven benefits of being outdoors and participating in recreation programs. Diversity challenges stereotypes, encourages critical thinking and helps people improve communication with others of different backgrounds. Our programs—whether fine arts or sports-focused, whether targeting toddlers or seniors—are filled with people from all parts of our community. Initiatives like the ELITE RE-Entry Program, coordinated by our Community Outreach Department, teach adults and youth how to treat others with respect every day. Likewise, our parks and facilities like Peoria Zoo, Lakeview Recreation Center and Owens Ice Center serve as common ground where children can play together and learn from each other—even if they live in different parts of our region.
While the Peoria Park District has worked since its 1894 inception “to enrich life in our community through stewardship of the environment and the provision of quality recreational and leisure opportunities,” we must continue this work with an eye on diversity. We are committed to strengthening our community and our workplace, as we strive for our staff to look more like all those that we serve. We are committed to equity of experiences as we make our programs available to everyone through program scholarships. We are committed to Peoria. iBi
Emily Cahill is executive director of the Peoria Park District.