By Nona Tepper
The Park District of Forest Park has instituted annual customer service training for all its staff after a patron complained on social media about how she was treated at the Roos Recreation Center. Jackie Iovinelli, executive director of the park district, said staff training is not being done in response to the resident's complaint on Facebook.
"Here at the park, Facebook doesn't dictate our daily operations," Iovinelli said. "If somebody brings to our attention any type of situation, obviously we're going to refresh staff on everything … not saying anybody did anything right or wrong. It's just another reminder of how we need to do this or that."
On May 27, resident Johanna Cousin said she ran into the Roos Recreation Center with her 2- and 5-year-old children to take cover from a thunderstorm that had just started. Cousin, an African-American woman who owns Just Cause Dancers, 7228 Roosevelt Road, said her husband and son were already inside the gym playing basketball. She did not respond to interview requests.
When Cousin entered the doorway of the facility, "a worker … walked out into the entryway and got in my face and yelled … 'you can't be in here,'" she wrote in a post on Facebook on May 27.
Cousin said she told the employee to "get out of my face," that she was a member of the Roos Recreation Center, and that her husband was inside. The employee allegedly responded, "You people think this is a daycare center; this isn't Planet Fitness where you can just come and drop your kids off."
Cousin's husband then came out of the gym and told her to take the kids home.
Cousin called the incident "maltreatment" and "racism" and filed a complaint with the Forest Park Police Department.
Police Chief Tom Aftanas told the Review that, because no crime was committed, "There was no need for a report. Ms. Cousin was told to speak with park management." Cousin later posted that the park board discussed the incident, that sensitivity training would take place for all staff, and that "steps are being [taken] with that employee to make sure nothing like this happens to anyone else."
"It truly is a really good park district. However, one person can mess it up. I have never had any issues until now," Cousin wrote.
Iovinelli said the Roos facility manager alerted her about the incident, and that staff then reached out to Cousin to talk. She said the employee was a year-round, part-time employee at Roos.
"She gave us her side of the story and she was very happy with just being listened to," Iovinelli said, adding that park district staff told Cousin they had a customer service training coming up and promised to address the incident at the training.
She said the employee did not want Cousin and her children to go inside the gym since there were programs being run inside.
"It was adults playing basketball in the gym and, from a safety perspective, we just wanted to prevent them from going in there," said Iovinelli, noting that, ideally, the employee should have articulated what the rules are to Cousin and also let her know why those rules exist.
"It was just a matter of, she came into the facility, a staff member discussed the rules, but they came to an agreement that it was fine and he was enforcing a rule, and she is now clear on that," Iovinelli said. "When you're expressing a rule, it's always good to know why those rules are enforced."
Iovinelli said staff held a customer service training last week, but it was not in response to the incident involving Cousin. She plans to make training an annual event around May of each year since that's when the pool opens and new staff begin work at the facility. The park district's approximately 50 full-, part-time, and seasonal employees all attended the group training.
During the training, she said, park district employees were reminded to "treat others as you would want to be treated. Another thing was [to] invite people into our facilities as if you were inviting them into your home. Listen to people.
"We do the greatest thing," Iovinelli said. "We provide recreation services to the community, and some days people are not having the best day, and it's our job to just listen to them when they come into our facility because this is their break. This is their extra time that they're choosing to come spend with us, and sometimes our job is to just listen to them."
About a month before the latest customer service training, Iovinelli said staff also received sensitivity training, where they watched a video provided by the park district's insurance firm and talked about respect in the workplace.
"We're constantly training and constantly refreshing here," she said. "Anytime there's anything, we're always here, we're just a phone call away. My door is always open and come on in and let us know how things are going because if you don't let us know, then we can't make any improvements on it."