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South Suburban Receives CAPRA for Services

With accreditation and a new risk manager, SSPRD upholds safety standards.

South Suburban Parks and Recreation District (SSPRD) received National Accreditation in the fall of 2019 from CAPRA (Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies), an award which recognizes the consistently high quality of SSPRD’s services within their community.

This recognition is just another feather in the cap of their accomplishments in the fields of the safety, loss prevention, and risk management.

“[Receiving National Accreditation from CAPRA] was recognition for our staff for their focused and dedicated work they put in every day at their jobs to provide superior park and recreation services for our residents, guests and patrons.

Additionally for our tax payers, it demonstrates that we function in a transparent manner and are following industry best practices,” said Mike Braaten, Deputy Executive Director of South Suburban Parks and Recreation.

SSPRD is a relatively large district, employing about 240 full-time staff and 1,200-1,400 part-time workers to serve a district with a population of 157,000 residents and counting.

The employees that keep operations running smoothly are caretakers of a vast number and variety of facilities, including four recreation centers, one entertainment center, one community center, two ice arenas with two sheets of ice each, four golf courses, three 18-hole miniature golf courses, 50 tennis courts, a BMX track, batting cages, athletic fields, and more than 100 parks with over 3,800 acres of parkland and greenways, 61 playgrounds, and nearly 100 miles of trails.

While the CAPRA ostensibly recognizes the quality of services offered by SSPRD, it also points to another successful underlying feature of the district – their safety program.

Such quality of service would not be possible without the comprehensive safety program maintained by South Suburban Parks and Recreation, a program which was recently enhanced by the addition of a role new to the district.

In August of 2019, SSPRD hired their first Risk and Compliance Manager, bringing on Jennifer King to oversee their safety compliance and procedures.

While the District’s safety program was already robust, by creating the role of Risk and Compliance Manager, SSPRD hoped to streamline their safety culture, combining tasks that would previously fall to departments as varied as finance, HR, Administration and Business Support into one role, and allowing for better oversight and coordination of the safety program within the district.

“Creating a single contact point for safety, risk management, emergency planning, workers comp issues, and training was a challenge, but ultimately improves and better coordinates delivery of service and illustrates the importance of safety for the district,” said Braaten.

Overseeing the safety program of a district as large and varied as SSPRD has not been without its obstacles.

“One of the biggest challenges has been educating myself on the various operations of the district and how best to provide assistance, guidance and expand the safety culture within each unique area,” said Jennifer King.

Another of the challenges inherent in maintaining a unified safety culture within a district with an employee base of this size, which is already complicated by the numerous and varied positions as well as the difference between full-time, part-time and seasonal employees, lies in the diversity of the demographic employed.

“We attempt to instill in employees a culture of safety, but at times it may not be taken seriously, or may seem an additional duty or chore for some. As Jennifer noted, we employ hundreds of part time and seasonal employees – many of whom are teens and young adults and may not place the importance on safety in the work place the organization desires,” said Braaten.

SSPRD embraces these challenges, however, by offering employee training that is varied and thorough. This includes AED training, licensed daycare requirements, lifeguard classes, lightning precautions, pesticide handling, and more.

SSPRD also offers a Leadership Academy where full-time employees can choose from a variety of safety trainings to meet a core competency, as well as a “Learn and Lunch” program that includes an informal discussion of safety-related topics.

“With the vast number of seasonal and part-time employees the district employs, continuous education on how to keep our employees, patrons and facilities safe is ongoing.  No one program or training fits all,” King said.

As was the case with many other public entities, 2020 was a rough year for SSPRD, but it also provided a testing ground for the programs and practices they had previously set in place.

“We had permanent layoffs of staff, we furloughed staff for a portion of the year, we deferred some capital projects and reduced our level of service for most of the year. What I’m proud about is how our staff, organization and community have bounced back now that we are moving out of the pandemic.   We’re stronger as an organization and ready to tackle what comes our way,” affirmed Braaten.

When looking toward the future, as one could imagine, the focus remains on safety and how to continue to progress and expand their already exemplary offerings to all staff, current and incoming.

“We plan on developing safety videos featuring areas where we see our most accidents (slips, falls, cuts, etc.),” Braaten said. “I’d like to see us develop a safety component to our on-boarding of new employees too.”

Having someone in the role of Risk & Compliance Manager has definitely helped to improve SSPRD’s safety culture as well.

“I think the consolidation of safety and coordination of related services that fall under Jennifer’s purview have benefited the District.  She is a one-stop shop for all things related to safety,” said Braatan.

In addition to helping to streamline SSPRD’s already solid safety program, King has begun a few initiatives of her own, including the use of safety tips in the district’s monthly employee newsletter. King also has plans to include a safety training video specifically for onboarding new employees in 2021.

“We believe it is important to set the message of the District’s commitment and expectation of the importance of safety in the workplace at the onset,” King opined.

In creating the role of Risk and Compliance Manager, South Suburban Parks and Recreation had hoped to further streamline and organize their safety program, and Jennifer has indeed succeeded in helping them to do so, taking pride in her role as the district’s “one-stop shop” for safety.

“With an organization as large as ours, it can be confusing and frustrating for employees to navigate the claim and reporting process. Hopefully I can help to alleviate any frustration,” King said.

With a goal to become the ultimate resource for anyone with safety needs as well as continuing to maintain the highest standards of safety for her district, King has helped immeasurably to improve SSPRD’s safety culture, further serving to support and contribute to the high quality of standards and services for which the district is already known.

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