March 2019 Spotlight Professional

Kelly Ashe, Recreation Director, City of Cheney Parks & Recreation

Describe the scope of your position in parks and recreation.   

As the Recreation Director, I oversee all of the activities, facilities, and programs that are under the recreation umbrella. I supervise two full-time staff and 50+ part-time employees. Goals for my new position are to increase teen participation, boost aquatic programs and improve our outdoor pool facility which his over 52 years old, create and maintain an active outdoor adventure program for all ages, improve the green space and infrastructure of our parks and add several community events throughout the year.

How long have you been with your present agency? 

I started working for Cheney in June 2017 as a Recreation Coordinator and was promoted to Director in November 2018.

Background experience and previous careers?

I received my BS in Recreation with an emphasis in Tourism Management from Indiana University in 2008. One of the requirements for my degree was to complete an internship. The summer between my junior and senior year of college I went to Fripp Island, SC to work at a beach resort. The housing that they provided for summer staff was a little less than ideal. Everything was furnished, but the kitchen had dead bugs in the pots and pans and silverware and at night when the lights were off you could hear the cockroaches crawling up the walls and falling onto the floors. I stayed less than a week, came back to Indiana and was placed with Bloomington Parks and Recreation as a Community Events Supervisor.

In Bloomington, I helped plan and implement the summer Farmers’ Market, juried art shows, concerts and Shakespeare in the park, Juneteenth celebrations, Taste of Bloomington, 4th of July parade and many other events. That summer I fell in love with Parks and Recreation and decided to get my master’s degree in recreation administration at Indiana University (Go Hoosiers!). I continued to work for Bloomington Parks and Recreation throughout grad school, and to this day community events are my biggest passion.

I graduated with my MS in 2010. My first recreation job out of college was with Colchester Parks and Recreation in Vermont as a Program Coordinator. I was in charge of running the youth sports programs (basketball and lacrosse) for 400 kids, summer camps, after-school programs, adult programs and I was the race director for the annual Colchester Triathlon. We had close to 1,000 people come from all around the US. I thoroughly enjoyed that job and might very well still be there if it hadn’t been for love!

I fell in love with a Woodchuck (a native Vermonter) who had moved to SC to be a firefighter with the Charleston Fire Department. Long distance relationships are no fun, so I moved down south and started working for the Air Force as the youth sports director on Joint Base Charleston. I ran the youth sports programs for ages 4-12 (basketball, baseball and soccer). I also planned and ran teen summer adventure weeks that included deep sea fishing, ropes courses, boating, SCUBA diving, STEM, IT, and more. I ran a homeschool PE class for kids on Base and I also had monthly physical activity options for children in our after-school program that included, mountain biking and bike maintenance, archery, fun runs and more. My husband and I were ready to leave the humidity of the south so when he got hired with Spokane Fire Department we were happy to be back near mountains and four seasons. And that brings me to being hired with Cheney! 

What were some of your first jobs, and what did you learn from them?

My very first job was when I was 14 years old. I was a dishwasher in a local diner in my hometown. I learned that I would never, ever be a smoker because I always went home with a headache after being surrounded by all the farmers that chain-smoked. I think the biggest lessons I learned that pertain to parks and recreation in an early job were when I worked as front desk staff in hotels in college. People are going to get upset and they will yell at you, but you need to realize that it’s not personal. The majority of people are happy with your service. After hotels when I embarked on my journey into parks and recreation the biggest thing I learned was to be flexible. This is a fast-paced environment and no matter what you do to plan ahead, something will always change. Keep an open mind and be willing to laugh when it’s all over. 

Why are you passionate about the parks and recreation field?

Parks and recreation departments are where people go for quality of life. We have a rare opportunity to connect with participants at all levels. People come to us to learn, they come to use to get fit and play, they come for support and friendship. We hit every single human category, mental, physical, emotional and social. How many jobs can do that? I’m passionate about parks and recreation because we build people up and we create friendships and families and opportunities to really connect. We bring people together. We provide something for everyone. Everyone is welcome and everyone is wanted. I can’t think of a better place to be. 

What has been your biggest professional challenge? 

I’m a very optimistic person that’s also incredibly determined and driven. Challenges, for the most part, can be enjoyable for me. Especially, when you overcome them. So, this might sound odd, but my biggest “professional” challenges, for me, have been when I wasn’t working in a recreation setting. I finished grad school during the big recession with the housing crisis. Parks and recreation departments were laying people off right and left and furloughing employees. It took me two years before I landed a job in parks and recreation and I had made it a full-time job applying to jobs. I interviewed for jobs all over the WORLD! The economy was just not that great and it took a while, but I kept at it. It took me three months after moving to SC to get a job on the Air Force base and when we moved to Spokane it took about the same amount of time. Those periods of parks and recreation unemployment were the most challenging for me because I missed the field immensely. I got bored not working long hours and interacting at a high level with the public and the community. I missed planning and implementing events and programs and being right in the heart of the community. Simply put, I missed serving my community.

What’s the best advice you can give to someone starting out in the field of parks and recreation? 

It’s going to tough, but it’s always going to be worth it. You’re going to work long hours, nights, weekends and holidays. If you can’t handle that, then you need to get out now. Be flexible, be open minded. Never stop learning. We have the best job in the world because we get paid to have fun! Just enjoy the wild ride!

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