August 2020 Spotlight Professional

Shanyanika McElroyShanyanika "Shan" McElroy – Policy and Organizational Performance Analyst with City of Seattle

Describe the scope of your position in parks and recreation.   

I am currently Seattle Parks and Recreation’s (SPR) Policy and Organizational Performance Analyst. I work in SPR’s Superintendent's Office under our Policy, Organizational Performance, and Property Management Division Director.

My work has three main focuses: SPR’s equity and inclusion/Race and Social Justice (RSJI) initiative, organizational performance management (OPM) Initiative, and policy management. 

The Equity/RSJI program examines the department’s policies, practices, programs, and services to ensure they are equitable, inclusive, and undo historical harm. The OPM program ensures achievement of the department’s strategic outcomes through the establishment of clear performance metrics, monitoring and reporting procedures, and continuous improvement activities. My policy management responsibilities include recommending updates to the department’s policies, policy management procedures/tools, helping to maintain the department’s electronic policy management system, and monitoring policy development process outputs.

How long have you been with your present agency? 

I recently celebrated my 20th year. I feel fortunate to be able to serve an organization that supports the beautification of my city and the health and wellbeing of its community members. I love being involved with WRPA because it helps me stay connected to a network of parks and recreation professionals.  WRPA helps keep me current and the field stays resilient by creating a space for professionals to share ideas and knowledge.

Background experience and previous careers?

My first employment experience with the City of Seattle was as a youth employment program participant. After college, I spent time working for the Washington State University Extension service in their youth development program. I served as a Program Coordinator, working with the youth development professionals and educators throughout Washington.

I worked in the hospitality industry for a brief period, which was also a lot of fun. I helped me realize that I really enjoy creating meaningful experiences that bring people together and build community. I’ve had so many amazing, impactful and meaningful recreation experiences myself. I’ve always felt inspired to pay it forward. Other roles I’ve held within the field include, Recreation Leader, Experiential Education Coordinator and Recreation Program Coordinator.

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

Those early experiences include, a high school internship at a community center, a program development internship at a Teen Programs Office. As a young person, it was powerful to be employed in a space where I was able to contribute meaningfully and authentically to my agency’s decision making. This taught me the importance of ensuring that if we as public servants are going to provide a service to community, we should be in relationship with that community. We should share the positional power we hold as public servants and seek to understand the needs of that community. I learned one of the many strategies for shifting power and understanding is maintaining a trusting relationship with the people we serve.

Another big takeaway was how I contribute to a larger system. I learned a lot about finding my own authentic place in the larger system. The experience helped me develop the critical thinking tools to really explore where my interest and talent might match a community need.

Why are you passionate about the parks and recreation field?

As a woman of color who sits at many intersections of marginalized identities, I have seen first first-hand how parks and recreation services can work toward undoing historical harm to underserved communities.

My mother raised three young children, while working multiple jobs, and pursuing higher education. Knowing that her children were safe and cared for while she was working, going to school, and working to manage care for a family was critical. Access to affordable childcare and the out-of-school time enrichment programs that would help her children succeed in were a priority for her. She also loved the outdoors, experiencing nature, and fostered an appreciation for it in us.

In a time where my family really needed those resources, we found them through recreation and youth development agencies. My mother was able to focus on shifting the trajectory of our family’s socioeconomic position. Seeing, first-hand, how our agencies are able to support community members inspired me to want to give back.

What has been your biggest professional challenge? 

Government agencies have limited resources, which can serve as a barrier to our equity goals. It takes a lot of heart, dedication, perseverance, and creativity to be responsive to community needs with limited resources. However, we cannot responsibly steward public resources without a focus on equity.

Therein lies a critical, rewarding challenge.

History is filled with examples of how government agencies have created and perpetuated harm against marginalized communities. This includes discriminatory practices within parks and recreation systems. Today’s public servants have a responsibility for eradicating that legacy. So, while it can be challenging, it is deeply worthwhile and one of the most important things we do.

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

A key thing someone starting out in the field brings to the table is innovation. They bring fresh ideas, they bring fresh energy, they bring new experiences, and they bring so much value.

Early in my experience, feeling new or inexperienced sometimes kept me from contributing. I’ve been encouraged throughout my career to be creative and bold. I’ve been encouraged to innovate and to be invested in the services that we provide. I had great mentors who reminded me of the importance of adding my voice.

I’d like to pass that encouragement on to someone starting out in the field of parks and recreation. Someone starting out, holds incredible power to keep us current, innovative and connected. I encourage them to find the authentic and unique space from which they contribute. I encourage them to find that nexus between what they love, what brings them joy and what their community needs.

Then, I would encourage to run with it.

I believe beautiful, creative, and impactful things come when we work from our place of joy.