H-F Park District wins national gold medal

  Representatives of the Homewood-Flossmoor Park
  District brought home the 2018 Gold Medal Award
  presented at the National Parks and Recreation
  Association meeting on Sept. 25. Attending the
  meeting were, from left, Darren Jasieniecki, marketing
  and public relations manager; park commissioner Dallas
  Collins, board president Steve Johnson; H-F Parks
  Executive Director Debbie Kopas; commissioner
  Debbie Dennison; Stephanie Simpson, superintendent
  of recreation; and Dough Boehm, superintendent of
  parks and planning.
  (Provided photo)

The Homewood-Flossmoor Park District was awarded the 2018 Gold Medal for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management at the National Recreation and Park Association’s annual meeting Sept. 25.

“Your peers have recognized you to be the best at what you do and that’s very, very impressive,” said Steve Johnson, president of the parks’ board of commissioners, at its Oct. 2 meeting.
“It was awesome to be there” when the announcement was made in Indianapolis, he said, adding, “The rest of the nation understands what a phenomenal park district we have.” 
Johnson told staff winning is really about what the park district staff does throughout the year.
“It’s a lot that you do every day for programming, facilities and I’m just proud of the staff and everything that you’ve done. I think its important for the community as a whole to understand that the dollars they provide to us to do what we do are spent wisely and they get the biggest bang for the buck that they can,” he added.
The park district won in the Class V designation for park districts serving a population of 30,000 or less. Judging categories include long-range planning, resource management, volunteerism, program development and professional development.
This was the third year H-F Parks was named a finalist in the competition. It last won the gold medal award in 2006. It also won in 1991. The American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration, in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association, awarded the honor.
Debbie Kopas, executive director of the park district, said winning the honor this time is special because the H-F Park District will be 50 years old in 2019. 
She explained the staff took its time in answering the 27 questions on the nomination application that was due in March. While the first 15 questions required standard answers about population, budgets and areas served, for others the staff made certain to show on H-F parks work for the betterment of the community. 
For example, one question asked for three innovations the park district implemented in the last three years.  H-F cited “being more neighborly” by helping people connect through playground play dates; “being more spontaneous” by offering Pop-Up events, such as trivia contests, Pokemon Go and winter weather events, such as snowman building; and  “being more responsive” by establishing a New Year’s Eve party for kids who couldn’t get a ticket to a local party.
On the social equity question, H-F outlined its work with the South Suburban Special Recreation Association, and how it has set a time for children with sensory disorders who are bothered by loud noises and crowds the opportunity to enjoy events before the programs open to all.
Once H-F made it through the semi-final round, it was notified that it had a month to produce a video about the park district posted to its website.  Kopas said the park district took a different approach from the typical informational video and presented a story from the perspective of someone who spent years enjoying the parks.
The writer and narrator of the H-F Park District story was Kopas’ 23-year-old son Dan, who works for a video production company in Atlanta. In it, he reminds viewers that the park district is more than baseball fields and swing sets. It is how the parks bring the H-F community together, he says.

The video’s park footage was provided by Darren Jasieniecki, park district marketing and public relations manager. 
The video is at hfparks.com.
Kopas said the award really belongs to all the staff who give so much to the park district. She is planning a celebratory luncheon for them.
For the next year, the park district will be proudly displaying the medal facsimile on its website and on stationery and sharing news of the award with park district residents in its seasonal brochures.

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