As Cheshire prepares for the onset of winter, the courts and fields that were once full of tennis and basketball players, as well as various school teams, will empty and make way for frost.
It may seem that the Town’s Parks and Recreation Department hits a lull in its schedule, but the truth is that things are going on year-round to keep the community active and engaged, including the installation of new lights at Cheshire Park so that pickleball players can continue to play until the snow really comes.
Notably, two new additions to the Parks and Rec Department means that “we’re finally fully-staffed,” says one of those newcomers, Administrative Assistant Krista Massey. She will be answering the phones, greeting visitors, and helping people navigate the registration process as needed. With 10 years of experience in customer service, she has “a complete resume to handle most anything administratively related,” says Recreation Department Director John Gawlak.
Gawlak says these two employees finally bring the Department back to the pre-2019 level of staffing it was at before he himself was hired.
Massey, a mother of four, has already fielded a few complaints in her two months on the job but says, “These are really just opportunities for us to improve. It lets us know what we can do better.” She praised Gawlak’s managerial style, saying he pushes for Parks & Rec “to be inclusive with everybody, because we want input.”
“Krista is a wonderful complement to Stephanie Dunn, my assistant,” said Gawlak. “Once again, her presence allows for the front office to concentrate on their assigned tasks and work more efficiently. It also is a big help to handle the visitors and call volume we routinely receive.”
Sarah Straker is the other new hire and will serve as the department’s Program Coordinator. She comes to Cheshire via Colchester and, most recently, Florida’s west coast, where she ran youth camps in the Tampa area. She credits having four real seasons as one major reason to return to her home state, but her enthusiasm for the role is shared by her boss.
“Having a Program Coordinator supporting the efforts of the Recreation Supervisor Elizabeth Mayne is huge,” says Gawlak. “(Sarah) was a clear number-one choice coming out of the interview process. Having her on board will allow us to focus more on programming needs and desires of the community.”
A former collegiate basketball player, Straker has always been interested in athletics, recreation, and education. Her area of focus for now will be summer youth camps. She echoes Massey’s sentiment that “people want to be heard,” but also says part of her job is to be innovative.
“Sometimes you have to take a risk on a new activity,” she says. “It might not be everyone’s favorite thing, but at the end of the day, at least you tried it.”
This applies to both campers and staff.
“(Camp) can’t just be sitting around playing video games,” she insisted.
Although summer seems distant, this is the time of year when Straker begins her planning for the camps. Keeping campers active and engaged requires keeping things fresh. “I’m always trying to think outside the box,” she says. “We want to be doing more special events too, supporting families after the pandemic, and making sure people in town know that we’re a resource for them.”
Of course, “bringing people together” with yearly traditions is part of Parks & Rec’s programming as well, as Therapeutic Coordinator Barbara Costello explains, highlighting several activities the Department puts together for the community.
Upcoming events include the annual Christmas Tree Lighting at Bartlem Park on Dec. 4, from 4-7 p.m. This event will feature hayrides, hot chocolate, music, crafts, and a very special guest from the North Pole. Registration is not required and all ages are encouraged to attend.
The department is also sponsoring a home lighting contest, the Night of Lights and Sights. Those wishing to participate should register by Dec. 1 at www.cheshirect.org/parkrec. Judges will be traveling throughout Cheshire in mid-December to determine the winning household.
Finally, Santa himself will take phone calls from children. Those interested in scheduling a conversation with the Jolly One can register using the same link.