Like other public offices, Bellingham Parks and Recreation is still recovering from staff and budgeting cuts attributed to the economic recession. Recreation coordinator Amanda Grove is among those helping the department move forward by restructuring programming and figuring out the best ways to continue serving groups in the community that need help the most.
"At a time, we were at the top of our game with direct service delivery," Grove says. "We're shifting to facilitation."
When she first started with the parks department in the late 1990s, Grove did a lot of hands-on work with developmentally and physically disabled community members. Grove says she now spends more time looking at all of the available options in Bellingham and the surrounding area, and pairing those groups up with activities that may be offered by outside organizations and nonprofits.
Grove found her way to Bellingham after travelling the world in the early 1990s with her son, who was only 7 years old at the time. They left California for faraway places like New Zealand and Southeast Asia before Grove landed a nursing job back in the states.
After deciding it was time for a career change, she signed up for the recreation program at Western Washington University and, after graduating in 1996, landed a job in Bellingham.
"The recreation program really helped me to clarify values I hold that I didn't have language for," Grove says.
Those values include promoting positive environments for everyone who would like to participate in recreational activities, she says.
"That means fostering self-actualization and choice and some of those principles that we as service providers need to honor for the people we serve," Grove says. "We can decrease stigmas."
In addition to always trying to offer inclusive programs, the department still offers programming geared for groups with extra needs, including the adaptive cycle expo each spring, and Camp TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More), which is a weeklong overnight camp for teens and adults with developmental disabilities.
For Camp TEAM, hosted on Samish Island each spring, the parks department partners with 60 students in the WWU recreation program, working under one of Grove's own mentors, WWU faculty member Jill Heckathorn. The camp helps participants grow confident in their own recreation skills, and helps teach the recreation students how to work with disabled populations.
The parks department has also started to build partnerships with other agencies that offer services to underserved populations, such as Max Higbee Center, which provides daily activities for those with developmental disabilities, Grove says. She is a volunteer board member for the nonprofit.
"It's very difficult to provide duplicated services in a difficult economic climate," Grove says. "It's more important to expand our partnerships now."
The department will team up with The Arc of Whatcom County, Max Higbee Center and other organizations in September 2014 for a new event called the "Everybody Fair," Grove says.
"It will be a celebration for the disabled community," Grove says. "We hope to reach every family and person whose life may be affected by disability."
Looking forward, Grove says she hopes to help the parks department revitalize Maritime Heritage Park in the coming year, and perhaps better serve the homeless population and those with mental illnesses.
"Folks who have mental health issues are underserved in recreation in general," she says. "We're asking, 'How can we support this group through recreational programming?'"
Despite losing staffing power and receiving extra duties, Grove says she's trying to keep an eye on the philosophy that first drove her to pursue a career in recreation.
"I feel like my job is to serve," she says. "It makes me try to find that balance of how we can best serve and not forget our roots as we try to move forward."
Through the years, Grove says she has gotten to know many of the disabled teens and adults in the community through dances, weekend trips and other fun programs offered by the department.
"The most rewarding thing is to know that they're a part of my life, and I'm a part of theirs," she says.
Contact Samantha Wohlfeil at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-756-2803.
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The Bellingham Herald salutes Whatcom County people who help make our community a great place to live with our annual Ten Who Cared series. If you have a suggestion for an organization we should salute next year, please email email@example.com.