The Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Department, which operates various sports programs that produce winners, has itself become a national champion.
It has been named the recipient of the National Recreation and Park Association’s (NRPA) 2018 Park Champion of the Year Award.
Darren Lewis, city parks and recreation director, will accept the award next Wednesday during the association’s annual conference in Indianapolis. Mount Airy Parks and Recreation will also be featured in the association’s award-winning publication, Parks & Recreation magazine, and Open Space blog.
“It is just a great honor for our program,” Lewis said Tuesday of the award that in 2017 went to Portland Parks and Recreation in Oregon. Mount Airy has never been a recipient.
The award recognizes exemplary efforts by park and recreation agencies or employees to educate their members of Congress or their staffs on the importance of investing in local parks and recreation.
Lewis, who became Mount Airy’s parks and recreation director in April and is a longtime department employee, said it works closely with officials at every level of government to highlight to them the quality-of-life value of its operations.
“The mission of Mount Airy Parks and Recreation is to build a healthy community through parks, programs and partnerships,” he said in a statement.
“Thanks to the outstanding support we receive at the national level from Congresswoman Virginia Foxx of the 5th Congressional District; at the state level from Rep. Sarah Stevens, District 90; and at the local level from Mayor David Rowe, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners and City Manager Barbara Jones, we are able to achieve our mission.”
Lewis added Tuesday that federal and state officials often are invited to special events in the city during which they can get an up-close look at facilities and programs.
This was the case on Aug. 30, when Foxx, Stevens and other officials attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new pocket park on the Granite City Greenway.
That event also recognized Mount Airy’s after-school snack program, through which children are served free and healthy snacks that are reimbursed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Child and Adult Care Food Program in partnership with city schools.
Parks and recreation personnel also deliver meals to local youths throughout the summer.
Public awareness efforts are a major factor in an agency winning the Park Champion of the Year Award, according to Lewis.
He said the Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Department mounts vigorous campaigns in this regard, relying on social media and the local press to inform the public about various activities and facilities. This includes anything that is newsworthy or “makes a difference in the community,” Lewis said.
All personnel in the department, numbering about 20 full-time employees, work hard to accomplish its mission, the director mentioned.
And they won’t be resting on their laurels, he assured.
“We will continue to advocate the importance of parks and recreation, the value it has in our community and the quality-of-life opportunities it offers citizens and visitors.”
As part of the national award recognition, the city parks and recreation official also will travel to Washington, D.C., next spring to advocate for parks and recreation on Capitol Hill.
Lewis will join his counterparts from around the nation in visiting members of Congress and seeking their support.
“I am fortunate to work with the best recreation staff in the nation and Mount Airy winning the Park Champion Award is just one of our continued success stories.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.