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Road Testing the New Mobile Recreation Program for Knoxville's Youth 

Mobile Recreation Program
Long before this summer’s launch of a traveling recreation program in Knoxville, Sheryl Ely and her Parks and Recreation staff were brainstorming new ways to reach more children and their families.

“Serving the kids we need to serve in the 21st century looks very different from many years ago,” says Aaron Browning, Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation. Most of the City’s recreation centers were built on a grid that has dramatically changed in 50 years. 

“This means we want to meet people where they are.”

“This idea of a mobile outreach program was Aaron’s brainchild, and now it’s a reality,” says Sheryl Ely, Director of Parks and Recreation.

After attending a 2016 U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering, the City applied for and received a $125,000 obesity grant in 2018. 

That was the start of the Knoxville Outdoor Recreation Experience Mobile Outreach – a new traveling recreation model designed to combat obesity and provide recreational activities in Knoxville’s socioeconomically deprived communities. 

After much research and an onsite visit to see a sister program in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the staff was ready to design a program for Knoxville communities where access to summer recreational programming is challenging.

Parks and Recreation staff members essentially created fun and playful physical fitness adventures, packed them in a new truck wrapped in a whimsical, colorful design, and have been hitting Knoxville’s roads four days a week with a new outdoor experience for the city’s youth.

Dan Frye, the graphic artist in the Communications Department, designed the wrap.

“Where better to take our new KORE outreach truck than to our neighborhood parks,” Ely says. “Our parks are in neighborhoods where people can get there and enjoy them.”

Ely says there are a number of areas in Knoxville where there is no recreation center – like Mechanicsville, for example. But Danny Mayfield Park is in that neighborhood and is well-used.

“Our 94 City parks are the best idea for the KORE mobile program,” she says.

Launched June 3, the program is being held four days a week at six parks: Malcolm-Martin Park, Danny Mayfield Park, Zaevion Dobson Park, Ashley Nicole Playground, Paul Hogue Park and Harriet Tubman Park.

Parks and Recreation staff is collaborating this summer and fall with many organizations for feedback, suggestions and best outcomes, including the University of Tennessee Extension Office, Knox County Health Department, Ijams Nature Center, Legacy Housing Foundation, Great Schools Partnership, Knoxville-Knox Community Action Committee, Knoxville’s Community Development Corp. and the UT Department of Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport Studies.

Megan Gerlach, City Recreation Specialist, creates program ideas and organizes the KORE truck for the park events. Gerlach and an intern travel to the parks four days a week for the events. 

A lot of games and activities are packed into the truck for kids: 9-square in the air, giant cup stacking, dodgeball, colossal lacrosse, chalk hopscotch, gaga ball, spikeball, big parachute games, obstacle courses, arts and crafts, and hoola showdown.

With healthier nutrition also being a part of this program, Gerlach uses the playfulness of games to teach healthy eating and healthy living. The children are learning about nutrition and building muscle. And there’s a healthy snack at each park event. 

“My goal was to give our children the chance to run, jump and play where they live,” says Ely. As of mid-July, several hundred have participated in the new program at the six parks.

“I’m pretty thrilled at how well it’s going in such a short period of time,” Gerlach says.
Mobile Recreation Program
“With any program launch like this, we’re looking ahead for an even better summer next year. We’ve learned a lot. We know afternoons make for a better experience. And we’re looking to increase our community partnerships,” Ely says. 

Children participating at this summer’s KORE mobile program at parks don’t have to register, and there’s no fee. 

Browning says the diversity in ages of children attending means staff must be flexible with activities and “change on a dime,” depending on the neighborhood and age of the children. 

“One of the great aspects of this program is that we’re reaching older children who have aged out of programs at recreation centers. They’re coming to neighborhood parks and seeing this great colorful truck, and then they find out about a whole new summer experience,” Ely says.

City Parks and Recreation offers 10 summer programs throughout Knoxville, and about 900 children participate in these fee-based programs. Additionally, 10 after-school programs at recreation centers round out the robust year.

“What we’re doing this summer with this new mobile program is step one in the infant stage,” says Browning. “As we grow, our hope is to involve the whole family.”

As its first mobile summer program comes to a close in early August, the Parks and Recreation team is already planning for another first: a KORE Mobile Outreach school year program that launches this fall. 

“We’re just scratching the surface with this outreach,” Browning says. “There’s so much ahead.”
Posted by On 09 August, 2019 at 9:16 AM