Re-Creating community: Avery Parks and Recreation Department meets needs for all ages
Jamie Shell / (firstname.lastname@example.org)
From organizing youth leagues to sponsoring proms for senior citizens, Avery Parks and Recreation has kept the physical activity needs of its patrons paramount for decades.
"Our goal is survival," Avery Parks and Recreation Director Robbie Willis joked. "We want to continue to grow and offer services for as low a cost as we possibly can to the public. We do many of our sports by formula, and we work to where we often break even or make little profit, primarily through charges and fees. We're often about as nonprofit as nonprofit gets."
Avery Parks and Recreation has experienced consistent leadership for a long period. Willis is in his seventh year as director, with longtime assistant Teddy Bare and administrative head Peggy Massey. Massey and Bare have worked in the recreation industry for more than two decades, with Massey recently retiring after serving in Newland for 29 years.
"Peggy is pretty much irreplaceable. She has been the right hand for Teddy and I," Willis said. "Anything I needed to know in the time I've been here, Peggy either knew, or would find someone who knew what I needed to know within a half hour or so. She has helped this department in so many ways. I'm happy that she is able to leave while she is able to enjoy her retirement."
Avery Parks and Recreation offers virtually everything for both the weekend warrior and the person serious about physical fitness. The department, located at the Rock Gym in Newland, offers a fitness area with full Nautilus circuit, along with nine pieces of cardiovascular equipment, including treadmills and tread climbers. In addition, elliptical equipment, recumbent bikes and a dumbbell station are available.
"A lot of people also use the gym for fitness walking," Willis added. "Avery County Senior Center, Yellow Mountain Enterprises, New Day Behavioral Heath and a number of home school groups take advantage of the gym, and Newland Elementary School uses the gym as it needs it."
In the course of any given week, a high number of patrons walk through the doors at Avery Parks and Recreation's facility to work out or play basketball. During warmer months, many individuals take advantage of the department's pool, located adjacent to Avery County Senior Center.
"We have one full-time seasonal laborer from May through early September," Willis explained. "We have about 30 seasonal employees, covering the pool, as well as nighttime softball events for scorekeepers, umpires and so forth.
"Peggy and I did a study 1.5 years ago, counting each person who signed in and out at our facility. We averaged more than 1,000 people per week. The same people might come in multiple times, but we have a lot of people who take advantage of what we have to offer."
Avery Parks and Recreation prides itself in offering sports and recreation opportunities for local youth.
"When I came here, we didn't really do much with youth sports, but we assisted with Bo Kilgore basketball and youth football. Avery Youth Soccer did its leagues and Avery Little League handled youth baseball, and each group had individual boards of directors," Willis said. "Since my arrival, two of the groups have come under the direction of the Parks and Recreation Department. We solely operate Bobcats Basketball, with around 180 kids second to eighth grade and Mighty Mountaineer Football for kids from third through sixth grade. Those programs pay for themselves through fees and charges.
"We still assist Little League with maintenance of their fields and a portion of their registration collections. Teddy maintains all the youth soccer fields and we collect some registrations for them as well."
Along with serving local kids, Avery Parks and Recreation serves adults with multiple sports offerings throughout the calendar year.
"We exclusively offer youth basketball and football, adult co-ed volleyball twice a year, adult men's and women's basketball, adult men's and women's softball, with co-ed softball in the fall," Willis said. "We also offer a special event each year, the annual Easter Egg Hunt, which Peggy did such a great job organizing each year and we hope she might help us with this year as well."
"Our adult youth softball has been one of our most successful programs. We generally have around 20-to-25 teams play in the league four nights a week, which includes around 500 people," Bare added. "We had 20 men's teams and six women's teams starting in May through our co-ed league in September. We did a fall league a couple years back, and we started a women's league because we saw a need for one. The leagues have worked great without any problems."
Avery Parks and Recreation partners with Avery County Senior Center for programs for local citizens enjoying their golden years.
"Three years ago, we began doing programs with seniors like Walking for Fitness, A Matter of Balance, Senior Stretching, 'Popcorn Cinema,' a movie day on Fridays," Willis explained. "Last year we put on a Senior Prom with 115 people attending. The event made it into North Carolina Parks and Recreation magazine."
Bare offered praise for the work Willis has done in making the department the successful community instrument it has become. He also hopes to see the department expand in the near future to include greater facilities to meet the growing needs of Newland and Avery County citizens.
"Robbie has done a lot for the department in helping us with more funding. We've bought a block across the street from the center and we hope to break ground on a new facility at some point. Before I retire in the next five or six years, I'd really like to see something built on that property," Bare said. "We are limited now, but I'd love to see a new building before I retire. Robbie doesn't back down and is passionate about his job. A new facility is his dream, and hopefully we can get the ball rolling."
Avery Parks and Recreation Department is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday and from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call (828) 733-8266.