October 2020 Spotlight Professional

Gabbi Gonzales – Recreation Coordinator, Burien Parks, Recreation & Cultural Services Department

Describe the scope of your position in parks and recreation.   

I’m currently a Recreation Coordinator for the City of Burien Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department. My department is lean in staff, so I get the opportunity to coordinate and have my hands in several program areas. I am the coordinator over special events, including Burien’s Dia de los Muertos Celebration, as well as several others. I also assist in permitting outside groups to hold events in Burien parks. In addition, I oversee a variety of outdoor programming: the community garden, Adopt-a-Park, and the Green Burien Partnership, as well as other volunteer programming and community partnerships. 

How long have you been with your present agency? 

I have been with the City of Burien for thirteen years, in two community centers and three positions. 

Background experience and previous careers?

I have had a variety of positions in an assortment of capacities in forging a career path. I feel very grateful and lucky regarding my career in parks and recreation. From the beginning, I have had mentors and advocates that noticed skills I possessed which would benefit the department, in the beginning, those were customer services, and later it was my proficiency in recreation software, and currently, it’s my heart for the community.

Some of my experience that I bring into the (virtual) office every day is my heart for volunteerism. I have volunteered in a couple of very different capacities parallel to my career in parks and recreation that allow me to continue to grow in and out of my career, and it informs the work I do on a daily basis. One of those is a part of the Victim Support Team with the City of Seattle’s Police Department as a volunteer advocate. In this position, I get the opportunity to assist survivors in a time of crisis and be a bridge to resources and empower them. I get to volunteer alongside the police, our court system, and non-profit professionals to assist in navigating what can be a terribly confusing system for a survivor.

My other current volunteer position is Vice President for the White Center Food Bank, and I find it incredibly rewarding. In that role, I am able to advocate, steer, and serve on the board for an organization I have a heart for, and especially now that food insecurity is so prevalent. During 2020 I’ve been lucky enough to work more one on one with staff and customers there, partnering to bring programming to both the Burien and neighboring White Center communities and interacting with customers on the distribution line.

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

My first job was working on my friend’s family’s berry farm. :-D

From the beginning, I think my first jobs taught me the importance of working hard and always continuing to strive to succeed. Similarly, my first positions in the parks and recreation field taught me equal values. Along with many other parks and rec professionals, I started at a front desk and assisted renters cleaning up a large hall after a wedding. Working in coffee shops, front desks, and in day camp positions helped solidified the high value that each member of the team brings to the table. This year has been a perfect reminder of that, as many of us have found ourselves moving from virtual meetings to work out in the field (sometimes literally) all in the same day. We all have our roles, and that is important, but learning to stay flexible and move from very different tasks to another has proven invaluable.

Why are you passionate about the parks and recreation field?

Parks and recreation is such a basic description of what is a vast and layered profession. Depending on the municipality/organization or the program area, one can work in an urban epicenter or out in the backcountry! Some might work in restoration, event planning, gang prevention, and social justice all during one single career. As a parks and recreation professional, I have gotten to make a positive impact on my community. I have had the opportunity to work alongside community members and leaders to enrich and inspire the community through high-quality experiences that they might not otherwise be exposed to. It is the positive and sometimes life-changing impact I get to have in someone’s life through the introduction to new hobbies, cultures, immaculate green spaces, or high-level policy change that drives my passion for this profession.  

What has been your biggest professional challenge? 

The biggest challenge I have faced professionally in parks and recreation is how to provide the most innovative events and programming to diverse communities with a very limited budget. This challenge has, however, opened many doors. It has allowed me to collaborate and partner with folks and organizations where we were able to come up with a way to provide a service to communities that otherwise would not have exposure to what benefits parks and recreation departments or government for that matter has to offer. Executing an event or program that took a little more creativity and teamwork because funding was limited makes me proud to be in the profession I am.  

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

I would tell them that the possibilities are endless! Be willing to learn and try out as many program areas as possible. The world of parks and rec is vast the more time you spend in this field the more you will learn and therefore have to offer.