Beloved Rec program supervisor is retiring

Donna Jenkins stepping down after 28 years

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  • Jenkins as Grand Marshal of the 2018 Sparta Fourth of July Parade Photo by Dave Case

  • The Sparta Recreation Department staff. Front row, from left: Janice Williams, and Alison Deehney. Back row, from left: Marianne Dilworth and Donna Jenkins

By Rose Sgarlato

— It will be 28 years to the day at her post when Donna Jenkins retires as Sparta’s Recreation Program Supervisor on Sept.1, 2018.

There have more than a few highlights in Jenkins career and some bumps along the way at Sparta Parks and Recreation.

“I took on the part-time role setting up programs in 1990. Over time I got involved in more special events and went full-time and then became Recreation Program Supervisor about 15 years ago,” Jenkins said.

“The main goal of the recreation department is to offer programs for every age in the community and to make them interesting,” she said. “That has always remained the same; what has changed is the events — where we hold them, who is involved and how they have expanded.”

Popular seasonal events include: Visit with Santa, Bunny Breakfast, Winter Carnival and Halloween festivities. Every event, said Jenkins, has taken on a new meaning and the department itself is multi-faceted.

"We wanted more people to take part and they have. Events are bigger and better. More people participate in them. Recreation is much more than sports , and that’s what we would like to communicate.”

And there are plenty of sports programs, Jenkins adds. Basketball, baseball, soccer and everything in between including offering downhill seasonal ski passes.

Sparta Rec aims at creating a variety of programs that are affordable and accessible to the community.

“We offer something for everyone from preschoolers to seniors. Marianne Dilworth runs all the senior programs, “ she said. "Our goal is to offer basic programs at a better value. Maybe the child dances here first and tries it, and then they can take it further.”

Dilworth is the Recreation Supervisor and the Senior Coordinator. She is in charge of the office and Jenkins' superior. As yet, no replacement has been named for Jenkins.

Besides the internet, one of the game changers in Jenkins' 28 years has been the competition from outside players. There are, she said, many more businesses today that offer what Sparta Rec does.

Jenkins has had to roll with the punches especially during the 2008 economic crisis. A budget cut eliminated the department’s activity calendar, a well-known staple that had been mailed to Sparta homes three times a year. Mailing the calendar became too costly and not an option. Although the calendar was readily available online and in the rec office, people did not adapt to the change so quickly and the program enrollment took a big hit.

“My department lost 25% of revenue when we didn’t mail it home,” she said. “ I had to do something, So, I took marketing courses on how to better promote programs. I started an advertising program. I am now seeing the results. I took different approaches using email and Constant Contact. Keeping ourselves relevant in today’s world is important.”

Jenkins also introduced a promotion for early sign-ups saving people 20% for Camp Sacajawea. The certified summer day camp, located on White Lake Road, is one that Jenkins is very proud of and was instrumental in building.

“It is an old fashioned camp where kids can reconnect to nature. It is designed to let kids unplug. Our swim lessons are also very popular.”

Also under Jenkins' tenure, attendance grew at Circle of Friends Pre-School , and it became certified.

“I love what I do. I love the people I work with. We have made a difference for a lot of people and we have had fun. It has been a phenomenal experience and I have been very blessed,” said Jenkins.

She has lived in Sparta since 1981 and, with her husband Joel, has raised three children here. Jenkins, with her family, has also been involved in the Lake Mohawk Ski Hawks for over 30 years, instructing, inspiring and otherwise assisting the water skiing performance group. When the local Elks Club named Jenkins the Grand Marshal for this year's Fourth of July Parade, the Ski Hawks posted their joyful response on the group's Facebook page:

"Congratulations Donna! Your dedication to the Ski Hawks and to our entire community is such an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your kind, warm heart with all of us!"

Retirement at 70 years of age feels right for Jenkins, who plans to spend more time with her semi-retired husband and many grandchildren in New Jersey and Missouri. But she doesn't see herself just sitting home and doing nothing.

“I am thinking of new challenges," she said. "I may start a new business, eventually."

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