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The Daily Plant : Friday, March 12, 2004

REFLECTIONS OF AN INTERN


Working in government always intrigued me. I arrived at Parks & Recreation inspired by the commitment of civil servants to do so much for so little recognition, excited by the direct connection between policy implementation and its effects, yet skeptical of reputed red tape and burdensome bureaucracy. I arrived hoping to clarify my preconceptions. Attending meetings, talking with city officials and working with Parks & Recreation employees showed me that government work, at least in this agency, can be fulfilling, effectual and exciting.

Along with the Police and Fire Departments, the Department of Parks & Recreation is the most visible of New York City agencies. The city’s eight million residents use over 28,000 acres of city parkland year-round. The department maintains hundreds of miles of paths and roadways, four stadia, thirty-five recreation centers and countless playgrounds and pools. Commissioner Adrian Benepe arrives each day in sight of a watchful public armed with monies he once quantified as "equal to a small rounding error in the annual city budget." The department must do very much with very little, while always attempting to improve its services.

Toward that end, the department has exceeded all expectations. It offers several socially oriented programs that mix recreation, jobs and education to promote growth in people young and old. Parks AfterSchool provides positive experiences for school children through mentors and activities at facilities citywide. The Parks Opportunity Program offers people on public assistance the opportunity to work for Parks & Recreation and receive valuable on-the-job training as well as job placement assistance. Commissioner Benepe and his staff push Parks & Recreation to help people from all walks of life.

City parks are managed and built to reflect the needs of those who use them. Playgrounds are designed to match their locales, athletic fields are strategically placed to attract the most use, and appropriate materials, such as synthetic turf, are employed to guarantee premium quality and longevity. To achieve these goals, the Commissioner must manage the budget wisely and enlist the help of elected city officials to fund Parks & Recreation projects in their respective districts. Reminding Council Members that parks benefit everyone and improve physical and mental health helps guarantee continued care for the city’s green spaces.

As an intern with Commissioner Benepe, I spent over 50 hours a week either shadowing him or working in one of several offices within the department, most often the Operations and Government Relations offices. Through these experiences, I was able to see both the face of Parks & Recreation and its internal support system. The Commissioner and his staff know that the work they do daily is beneficial to all. Having to choose which neighborhood gets which improvements can be difficult, but at the end of the day, a community is better off because of the work done by the department.

Before arriving at Parks & Recreation, I was curious to see how an Economics and Geography major would fit into a government internship. Economics easily falls into the mix, as many of the choices made in planning parks depend on financial matters and cost/benefit analyses. After a couple weeks, I came to realize that geography also plays a large role in everyday life at the agency. Building projects must complement the landscapes of the communities where they are to be located, afterschool services are needed in some areas more than in others, and population shifts within the city vary the stresses put on facilities. Most importantly, I found that analytical skills developed in courses at Middlebury College put graduates in a strong position to approach situations in a rational and effective manner and make decisions accordingly.

Directing an agency in a politically charged city cannot be easy. However, I did find that on a daily basis, the Commissioner, and all who work for Parks & Recreation, can go home knowing that they provide the people of New York with great facilities, excellent social services and, most importantly, an improved quality of life. As I begin my search for a career after college, I remind myself that working in government is rewarding and the satisfaction of helping people outweighs the sacrifices made to do so.

Written by James Nicholson, Middlebury College Intern, January 2004

Quotation for the Day

"I was born in a bad time for Spain, but a really good one for cinema."

Pedro Almodóvar

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