On more than one occasion Erin Parchert has been mistaken for a camp counselor or a lifeguard as she strolls the grounds at the Park District. But the youthful 25-year-old is actually the new superintendent of recreation at Forest Park’s Harrison Street facilities.
“I sometimes feel that people look at me and they think, ‘what?'” Parchert said. “They’re just really confused by it. Even in dealing with some of my staff’s parents. They look at me and think ‘you, you?’ And I’m like, yeah.”
Parchert and the equally young recreation supervisor that she hired, Josh Enos, are part of an infusion of young energy and enthusiasm into the tradition-bound Park District. Critics have said the organization is slow to change and is more concerned with its facilities than creative programming. Often, events have to be cancelled for lack of interest.
“It seems like a lot of the programs have been in the brochure for years and years,” Parchert said. “They’ve been on kind of a decline.”
Executive Director Larry Piekarz said Parchert’s job is to help boost the level of public interest, and her background in adventure sports could bring some creative thinking to the table. Parchert has run the Chicago marathon, is a rock climber, hiker, snowboarder and spelunker. She is not one to sit behind a desk all day.
“Both (Parchert and Enos) bring some great new ideas, new energy, and will bring some fun back,” Piekarz said. “I think it will be great for the park and the people in town.”
Parchert grew up in the Rock Island, Ill., area and has always loved the outdoors. As a child her grandparents took her camping. On trips with her parents she climbed a pyramid in Mexico and went sea kayaking in the Cayman Islands.
Parchert, who ran cross country and track in high school, went to the University of Illinois where she majored in journalism, But after three years began looking for something different.
“I had a friend who was involved in the parks and rec major and she really liked it,” Parchert said. “I was just kind of looking for a change and I knew that this was all stuff that I like to do.”
So she transferred to Western Illinois University and graduated with a double major in December 2004. She was later hired as a recreation supervisor for the Park Ridge Park District. There she ran day camps, early childhood education programs and special events.
“She was a great employee for us,” Lori Knouse, the superintendent of recreation at the Park Ridge Park District said. “She had a great attitude and was willing to take the extra step to serve our residents.”
Parchert is a hands-on manager and has already ruffled a few feathers with some of the changes she has been hired to make. She accepted the recommendation of a pool manager to change how the lifeguards keep watch over the pool, and took the step of adjusting how paperwork is processed as well.
“There are lifeguards down there who have worked here for eight years and I’ve come in here brand new and trying to change things,” Parchert said. “I’ve butted heads with some people about wanting to change things and do things a different way.”
She and Enos are now developing new programs for the fall and plan to offer Tai Chi, as well as a walking group for stay at home moms.
“Josh and I right now are working on developing a brochure for the fall,” Parchert said. “It’s going to be our first brochure that we put together and we’re bringing in a lot of different programs and we’re trying to spice things up a little bit.”
Coming to Forest Park from a much bigger park district has been a big change for Parchert, who is used to seeing more management and supervisory staff.
“We had an aquatics supervisor, we had an athletics supervisor, we had a golf supervisor, we had an ice rink supervisor, early childhood; someone for everything. Here you’ve got to wear all sorts of different hats and be a jack of all trades.”
Before Parchert and Enos came on board the Park District had already begun cooperating with neighboring communities to offer co-op programs, including flag football and ballroom dancing. Change is happening, Piekarz said, and he’s counting on his new staff members to push the envelope.
“We’ve been expanding,” Piekarz said. “We’ve been doing a lot, but I think we can even take it one step further with some new ideas. I want them to look at stuff. If it needs to be revamped let’s revamp it.”