Next Gen Essayist Explains His Rise Through Rec

Next Gen120 Feat

After graduating from high school, I took the first job I could find β€” at my local community recreation center. If someone had told me that my minimum-wage job would lead to me majoring in recreation management, my surprise would be not that recreation management is a major, but that I would even make it to my junior year of college.

Both of my parents had immigrated to the United States at the age of 18. My father had never finished high school, and my mother, who raised my three siblings and me by herself, worked multiple jobs. Growing up, we struggled to make ends meet. Being a junior at a university seemed as far away as the moon.

I had been involved in athletics my entire life, so when I was able to find a job that was related to that, I was thrilled! My job at my community recreation center exposed me to an entire industry that I had never known existed.

What also took me by surprise was seeing firsthand the positive impact that recreation had on participants β€” not only physically, but mentally. From seeing little children thrilled at learning how to kick a soccer ball to senior citizens playing pickleball at a pace that amazed me, I saw just how vital recreation was.

I worked my way up the ladder in my park district and worked at other park districts in a variety of roles until I graduated from William Rainey Harper Community College. I was the student body president of my class and was a member of the National Honor Society. I was the first in my family to graduate college and the youngest center director in my park district's history.

Next Gen120


Constant learning
To say that I deserve sole credit for my professional and academic success would not be truthful. Without my mentors in the recreation field, it would not have been possible.

Working in recreation teaches you to adapt using a variety of skills. For example, working as a referee taught me how to adapt to a variety of situations while still completing my objective. My time as a customer service representative taught me how to communicate efficiently. My time as a faculty director taught me that a good leader is more than a title; respect is earned and must continuously be earned.

All of these skills translated not only into my professional career, but also into my academic career. After graduating from Harper College, I transferred to Southern Illinois University, and the first thing I did after moving in was go to the student recreation center and take a job application. I was hired as a sports supervisor and program manager.

I thought I would be ready and that I wouldn't experience anything new. I am delighted that I couldn't have been more wrong. Some of my skills carried over, but I had to learn new ones, such as working with a diverse population and coordinating with coworkers who were my age. I was also exposed to various new types of recreation. I signed up for a canoeing class at my student rec center, and I still remember the joy I felt learning how to paddle a boat across the lake successfully. It didn't stop there. I signed up for a mountain biking class, and I am continuing to take as many courses as possible. Growing up on food stamps, I never imagined that I would be paddling around a lake for hours or dodging boulders on a bike in the middle of the woods.

My favorite part was experiencing this with peers who were as enthralled as I. That has been my favorite takeaway from my time in campus recreation: seeing firsthand the impact recreation can have and giving people opportunities that without campus recreation would not be possible.

Unlocking potential
This excites me for the future. By the time I graduate, I hope to have gained even more knowledge and more experience that will allow me to someday be a director. I plan on expanding outdoor recreation programs while continuing to improve upon traditional programs. We have seen a resurgence in outdoor recreation, so by providing these opportunities and implementing them, we will stay at the forefront of the industry.

I also plan to ensure opportunities for members of the community who face financial and cultural obstacles. I know firsthand that financial barriers and not knowing English fluently can prevent members of the community from partaking in recreation. I also hope to help other people who grew up like me β€” on food stamps and struggling to make ends meet β€” unlock their full potential, and there is no better medium than recreation to accomplish that.

Editor's Note: Alex Valladares was chosen from a field of 24 entrants in AB's inaugural Next Generation of Campus Rec essay program to receive free registration to NIRSA's 2020 national conference. Our rollout of the remaining seven finalists continues in April.

This article originally appeared in the January | February 2020 issue of Athletic Business with the title "From food stamps to recreation fluency." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.


Page 1 of 466
Next Page
AB Show 2024 in New Orleans
AB Show is a solution-focused event for athletics, fitness, recreation and military professionals.
Nov. 19-22, 2024
Learn More
AB Show 2024
Buyer's Guide
Information on more than 3,000 companies, sorted by category. Listings are updated daily.
Learn More
Buyer's Guide