Q&A with Lora Lacey, Washington Township Parks & Recreation Director
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised here in Avon. My parents live in the same house I was born in on Old 36. Right now, I live in Stilesville. It’s nice to still work in the place you grew up. You feel like you have a little bit of closeness to it. I feel like I am giving back to the community that helped raise me.
My boyfriend and I live in Stilesville with our two kids, ages seven and three. We all usually end up back at my parents’ house on Friday nights.
I went to Indiana State University. Originally, I went for teaching but I switched to Recreation and Sport Management.
How did you know you wanted to do that instead?
I went to the counselor’s office. I really liked working with kids, but I didn’t want to be in a classroom environment. I wanted to do something more. She referred me to a professor in the recreation and sport management department. He is one of those people who is so energetic, it is infectious. So, I changed it, and I loved it. When you know, you know. I just knew when I started it’s what I wanted to do.
What do you do as parks and recreation director? What is included in your job?
The question we get most is, “What do you do in the wintertime?” Right now, a lot of what parks does is plan programming for people in community. We have an event venue, and we rent it out free as a meeting space during the week. We raise awareness about the park. We get the community involved. We work with organizations in the community to help our youth and target demographics.
As you get into it more, you think big picture stuff. One thing we do is all the parks directors in Hendricks County meet four times a year, and we come up with different goals together. One goal we have is trying to connect parks through trails. Also, we talk about ways we can help the whole county, not just our own towns. A lot of it is health and education, nature education, getting kids outside and off screens.
We are very happy with the direction we are going. A lot of it is raising awareness of everything we have going on. And we stay involved. My number one goal is getting people to the park.
Where does your passion for parks and recreation come from? Did you always want to do that from a young age?
I grew up playing in these parks, especially Ellis Park. My brother has worked for Danville Parks for 10 years now. A lot of people don’t know about this side of it. They go into recreation management and think they’ll run a sports team or work for the Colts or be a wedding planner. Not everyone can be a wedding planner and not everyone will run the Colts franchise. But we need more people in parks and recreation. It really is a need to a community. If you look at polls people take, people move here for recreation, fire protection and police, not for how many Starbucks we have.
What do you like best about Avon?
I would say the thing I like best is how involved the community is. I’ve worked at other parks departments, and it was so hard to get people to participate in programming. It was hard to get businesses to help out. Avon is a community where everyone is willing to help out. It’s so great. For our Ghosts and Goblins event, we have almost 60 vendors that come out for a four-hour event on the trails, passing out candy. It’s great there’s so much for the community that’s cheap and cost-effective.
What is a typical day like for you at the Parks and Recreation Department?
The best part about this job is there is no typical day. One minute I could be at my desk working on a board report, and then the next hour I am at the Chamber of Commerce giving a speech about the new park we are building. Then I come back and I’m helping the counselors out at camp. Or suddenly, a kid is bleeding and I have to run up to camp to check on the kid. There is no typical routine. It’s something new each day. We make the job what it is. It would be just as easy to sit at this desk all day and make policies and procedures, but I’d rather go and talk to maintenance or go build the foam machine or go fix this or that.
What is your favorite program or aspect of your job?
I would say my favorite program would have to be the concert series and movies we do with the town. We work really well with the parks department for the town. I get to help plan. My favorite aspect is getting out in the community and talking about the park. It’s my favorite thing to do. I joke it’s the funnest place on earth. It sounds crazy, but I enjoy coming here. I genuinely enjoy coming to work, which not many people can say. It’s what I honestly believe that I’m supposed to be doing.
What is your favorite thing to do to relax?
I really enjoy kayaking. I am big into exercising. I go running every day. It’s a stress reliever. It is a stressful job working in the public because everything you do is out there. Sometimes you work so hard on something for everybody, and there are a few people who go on social media and are upset about it. I spend a lot of time here instead of with my family, so it gets to me sometimes. Fishing, camping, that’s what we all like to do together. That’s where you’ll find me in the summer. We make our kids go camping every weekend.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Avon?
Opa’s, hands down. Anytime we do a work meeting, that’s where we go.
Do you have any advice for your younger self?
I would say to be patient and let things work themselves out. But also take chances. When I was at my previous job, I didn’t have any plans to leave but also had just had a baby, worked a lot of nights, weekends and almost 60-hour work weeks. I just wasn’t happy. This position opened up. I wasn’t sure if I was qualified enough for it or if I was able to do it. My brother said, ‘well, you’re not happy now so take a chance. Plus, it’s good to move up.’ I took a chance and I am happy I took that chance. I have been here three years.
In a world of iPads, smartphones and screens everywhere, what’s something the parks and recreation department can offer that these things can’t?
I can offer memories that will last a lifetime. I can give you an experience instead of a thing. Your kids will grow so fast, in the blink of an eye, and you want to have those memories. Nothing is guaranteed in life. You want those experiences with them. Make memories with them. Any type of park will give you that. Just get out with your family and make memories. A friend wanted to give her daughter experiences instead of presents, so she gave her a gift card to paint pottery. She gave her memories instead of things.
What’s coming up this year for the parks and recreation department? Or what are your goals for the department in the future?
This year is going to be a big year because we just got approved by town of Avon to start building our new park. Pecar Park will be on 150 North. It will have a nature center, campground, nature play playground, low ropes challenge facility, wetland education and an outdoor classroom. We have geared each aspect for educational purposes. We also have a facility for nature education. It also includes a 2.5-acre fire prevention pond. The scheduled completion is for the end of September.
The National Recreation and Park Association is having their annual conference in Indy this year, too. It’s huge and only happens once every 15 years. We are really involved with the State Association, so we will be helping with National when it comes. That’s a huge draw for Indianapolis.
Do you watch Parks and Rec? Is it an accurate representation of your life? Who do you resemble on the show?
Yes. The first two seasons, it was more about parks and turns more to small town government after that. But it is that ridiculous sometimes. People are just like that. My favorite episode is where they’re at a town council meeting and someone says, “You put a sign out on your well that says don’t drink the water, so I made sun tea with it.” Those are the types of things we hear. People get lost a lot, and all the team must go out to find them. We get the craziest questions, like, “There’s a dead opossum, what do you plan to do about it?” I could keep a quote book. I like that about this job. I am always surprised.
Follow Washington Townships Parks and Recreation Department to stay up to date by visiting them online at washingtontwpparks.org.