“Recreation Centers Strengthen Communities.”

Photo: Clarence Ellie-Riveraa
Never quit_Local 299 DeJohn Williams at St Mary's rec center

Photo: Clarence Ellie-Rivera

I am a Recreation Supervisor at St. Mary’s in the Bronx. I’ve worked for the Parks and Recreation Department since 1999. My job is to make sure the center meets the needs of the community.

AFSCME_NeverQuit_BrandedTitle copy_blankAs a kid I frequented the rec center in Morningside Heights. I have lasting memories of playing sports there and hanging with my friends. We built lifetime friendships and had good role models. Those experiences define me, so when I was figuring out what I wanted to do it helped me choose a career in public service.

People of all ages—from 18 months to seniors—come to St. Mary’s and feel welcome and safe. They learn to swim, dance and play sports. We run basketball and billiards tournaments and our dance program has about 450 kids enrolled.

We offer free after-school programs and field trips for youth under 17. We offer a range of low-cost memberships for adults, seniors and people with disabilities.

I started a tandem bike program in Washington Heights. Our events drew about 70 participants—parents and grandparents riding with their kids. Most of all, tandem bike riding teaches people the to be patient, to cooperate and have fun.

Our chess program teaches life skills. Chess trains you to think about strategy, options, and consequences. Kids become calmer. The kid who would pick up a rock and throw it for no reason now stops and thinks and maybe won’t throw the rock.
Our Learn to Swim program caters to parents with children as young as 18 months. St. Mary’s also has a swim team with about 18 to 25 kids. They learn form, water safety, breathing techniques, and more. The swim program runs from fall to summer, when we move to the outdoor pool.

Neighborhood recreation centers give youth a safe place to hang with friends. We provide guidance and supervision. The center is about people having fun — fitness and recreation. I often meet people I coached when they were 10 or 12, who introduce me to their kids.
Recreation centers strengthen communities by bringing people of different backgrounds, cultures and religions together. It draws and connects residents from every part of the neighborhood. It’s important to get to know people—even those who are different from you. You may resist at first, but once you get to know them you’ll find you have more in common than meets the eye.

DeJon Williams, Recreation Supervisor, Local 299

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