The Gainesville Parks and Recreation Department and one of its volunteers were recognized at the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association’s annual conference last week.
For the sixth time in 10 years, the department was honored as the best in Georgia, and its longtime volunteer, Wesley Martin, has been named one of the state’s seven volunteers of the year.
"It’s one of those things, we never sit back on our laurels," said department director Melvin Cooper. "Excellence is what our agency and our staff and our board aim for in everything that we do."
Gainesville received the honor for the 30,000- to 80,000-population category, said Jimmy Gisi, executive director for Georgia’s Recreation and Park Association.
A committee of Georgia recreation professionals made the selection.
"What I think is so great about this award is that it comes from their peers," Gisi said.
Gisi, who served as the director of the Cobb County Parks and Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department for 10 years, said the award is more gratifying than awards given by city councils and boards of commissioners, because those who know the business best decide who gets the award.
"To me, personally ... it always meant a whole lot to me whenever my peers realized what I had done."
The Gainesville department last received the honor in 2005, Cooper said.
Gainesville is one of a few recreation departments in the state that are consistently ahead of the game, Gisi said.
"There’s three or four departments in our state that pretty much are on the cutting edge, and Gainesville is definitely one of those," he said.
Whenever a new program comes in and the state association wants to do a test run, it usually chooses either Gainesville, Carrollton or Roswell’s parks departments to be the guinea pig, Gisi said.
"They have the ability to take the new programs and make them work," he said.
The Gainesville department is one of four agencies statewide, and 66 nationwide, nationally accredited by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies.
Gainesville first achieved accreditation in March 2000, and was reaccredited in 2005.
"That’s one of those things that the agency is very proud of, and our community is very proud of," Cooper said.
Gisi said the accreditation deals mostly with policies and procedures.
"A lot of it is things that we as departments do, but we don’t necessarily have it formalized," he said.
But that does not mean attaining national accreditation is easy, Gisi said. And Gisi knows, because he began working on the accreditation process when he was still in Cobb County.
"It is a booger," Gisi said. "It is hard to do, really hard to do. I can speak firsthand on that."
Wesley Martin, a Gainesville resident, was also recognized at the state conference as one of seven Volunteers of the Year. The awards committee evaluated all of the volunteers’ applications, comparing Martin’s contributions to other volunteers in the state.
Martin has volunteered with the parks and recreation department for the past 20 years. Martin was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
He has been a volunteer youth baseball and football coach for the department, served on the Vision 2014 Strategic Planning Committee, the City Park Stadium Citizen Advisory Committee, a fundraiser for the Children at Play Scholarship Fund and as chairman of campaign fundraising for the new P.K. Dixon Field House at City Park Stadium.
Martin, who is the son in Jake Martin and Son Contractors, stays busy with his job and his volunteer work, Cooper said.
"If you get in Wesley’s way, he’s going to run over you," Cooper said. "He’s got a lot of things to do and a short amount of time to do them in."
Cooper said Martin’s efforts have been instrumental to the Gainesville agency.
"Wesley’s just one of those quality individuals in our community that we could not do our jobs without," Cooper said.