Spotlight on Portland Parks & Rec!

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Right away you can tell Sadie Atwell is a warm and approachable person. It makes perfect sense that she would be spectacular at working with the public as she moves with ease throughout the East Portland Community Center, welcoming park patrons and assisting her fellow employees with questions, not batting an eye. You can tell multitasking is a way of life at the EPCC - a variety of visitors move in and out of the building, some use the lobby, waiting for friends and family after a swimming or exercise session. Atwell handles the hustle and bustle with efficiency and grace.

She began working for Portland Parks and Recreation in 2010 after returning to Portland from  Florida, largely on her own without a strong support network. She was introduced to PP&R through a partnership with Outside In, a nonprofit that helps homeless youth and other marginalized people move towards improved health and self-sufficiency. This connection led Atwell to work for Josh Green at the Summer Works program where she hosted the Free Lunch Program and eventually applied to work for the City’s preschool. It’s important to highlight that PP&R has a reputation for being an employer of choice, one that specifically seeks a diverse staff. This is evidenced in their efforts partnering with external organizations in their recruitment. Sadie Atwell has worked hard and cross trained in many positions and locations throughout the bureau. Her obvious drive, motivation, and people skills make her a sought after asset across the City.

Her next role led her to be an Inclusion Aide at the Peninsula Park Community Center Preschool, working one on one with a boy who had cerebral palsy. Someone with this disorder may experience problems with sensation, vision, hearing, swallowing, and speaking, and this young man would not have been able to enjoy recreation to the fullest without Sadie Atwell. The obvious love and compassion in her voice leads me to tear up a bit as she talks about her “buddy”. These strong relationships are one of the stand-out services that she and others like her are able to provide for the public. Decisions to actively include and promote all types of diversity are one of the things that make Portland a city worth living in.

It’s hard to keep up as she shares the many roles she’s had in PP&R from Camp Director, Recreation Coordinator, Recreation Lead, and some temporary positions in-between. After 8 years at Peninsula Park Community Center, she recently returned as a Recreation Coordinator at the East Portland Community Center following the birth of her second child. This busy woman generously spent her lunch break speaking with me, and I could see why her name was brought up multiple times as a suggestion – further indicating admiration by her coworkers.

As someone with institutional knowledge of the Parks System, she notes that every community center has its own personality. When she worked at Peninsula Park Community Center, things were a bit more intimate than one of the “Big Five” (larger centers with aquatics facilities) she’s at now, where people come from many neighborhoods to access the large variety of programs and services. When asked about the proposed 6.3 million dollar budget cut, her first thought was about the importance of budgeting and ownership of your work. Atwell is not at a loss for ideas: “Demand more dollars ongoing to match what's being spent. Change the approach of solely relying on revenue to make the Parks bureau flourish without creating cost effective measures that put real dollars into program. Seek out formats of other Parks and Recreation bureaus in the states to see what works. Evaluate management positions that can be condensed or eliminated to save front line staff.” She’s disappointed that programs and staff may fall through the cracks, and acknowledges that it creates pressure when staff are moved to new centers.

Sadie is just one employee, but if you extrapolate her lost relationships to the proposed 70 full and part time positions slated to be cut, they add up to a large deficit in the social capital these centers have historically provided. These proposed cuts mean more than just fewer swimming lessons, or not seeing your favorite front desk staff. It is well documented that physical health, strong social networks, and mental health are inextricably tied; for Portlanders who don’t always have alternative options these cuts have rippling quality of life consequences.