by Kirk Talbott
Health is a big deal at the Takoma Park Recreation Center on New Hampshire Avenue. John Webster, who directs the center with a small but dedicated staff, has built up a robust portfolio of programs to enhance physical and mental health.
On any given afternoon or evening there are classes ranging from pilates, Zumba,Jazzercize, karate and indoor soccer. Less conventional but no less popular, the center offers Ladies Boot Camp, Double Dutch rope jumping, open gym for adults and even chess and t’ai chi.
Smiles, laughter and activity greet anyone who walks through the doors.
Staff member Patricia Chappell is a long-term social worker with an infectious laugh and magnetic personality who initiated a “Girls on the Rise” program for 11-14 year olds. Over a year’s time she built a cadre of pre-adolescent girls who eagerly participate in the mentoring program.
“What we say in the group stays in the group, that is one of our covenants,” says Chappell, who mixes physical and social activities to support healthy habits and also listens empathetically to the weekly travails of the girls.
Staff member Sandra Boone, who also works at Piney Branch Elementary, directs the after-school Kidz City and Camp Recess programs. She encourages young participants to indulge in healthy snacks such as yogurt and fruit as part of her overall message.
What the New Hampshire Avenue center lacks in terms of facilities and resources it makes up in energy. Webster, who came to Takoma Park two years ago after a long career in recreation, sees the New Hampshire center as a “work in progress with enormous potential to serve the community.”
A man with a mission, he oversees staffers and volunteers who share his vision of “getting outside the doors and building bridges.” He has already established solid relationships with nearby apartment complexes, churches and businesses.
Good citizenship and life skills are also central to Webster’s philosophy. “We are here,” he says, “to facilitate, energize and reinvigorate.”
But the New Hampshire Avenue Rec Center does not have it easy. Budgets are tight. For instance, the Girls on the Rise and Kidz City participants could use t-shirts and sweat shirts.
You can guess, however, that Webster will somehow find a way to procure these basic items. He already has a record of challenges met and expectations exceeded.
Photo by Jesse Allen