Parks & Rec ready for fresh start with lakeside season opener, says new manager

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All six public beaches in Evanston are opening this weekend and Audrey Thompson, the new director of Evanston’s parks and recreation department, wants the public to know that changes have been made.

Thompson told the roundtable, “I’m looking forward to visiting all the beaches this weekend. I want lakeside staff to know that I am there, visible and accessible. I also want to introduce myself to bathers and let them know that I am in control.

“We worked very hard to hire the right people and fix what was broken. We want this summer to be safe, but fun, for everyone.

Opening day of the 2022 season at Lee Street Beach. Credit: Wendi Kromach

This year’s opening comes just three months after the publication of a 379-page report following an independent investigation by law firm Salvator, Prescott, Porter & Porter. The report showed city officials ignored reports of a culture of abuse and harassment that put young women in the lifeguard program at risk.

Thompson said all of the recommendations included in the report regarding lakeside hiring and training practices, human resources, and complaint reporting policies and procedures have been or are being implemented.

With these new procedures, new hiring practices, new staff and new expectations, there is also an air of new excitement and new possibilities.

Evanston Beaches are the only open water lakefront in Illinois certified by the United States Lifesaving Association. This certification indicates that lifeguards have achieved a designated level of training, including swimming ability, health and fitness, strength training, medical aid certification, and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certification.

Thompson, who holds a master’s degree in social work and a license as a master social worker, brings to his role more than 30 years of leadership experience in social programming, with experience working with residents of all ages. .

Left to right, Michael Callahan, assistant manager; Victoria Foreman, Front Office Floater; Audrey Thompson, Director, and Tim Carter, Lakeside Manager. Credit: Wendi Kromach

Its new assistant manager, Michael Callahan, left the city’s public works department as a forestry and arborist supervisor. The new Lakeside Manager is Tim Carter, who previously worked at the Levy Senior Center as a program coordinator.

Thompson, Callahan and Carter worked closely with Megan Fulara, director of the city’s human resources department.

New procedures

Among their newly implemented lifeguard program procedures:

  • There is a new interview process for all Lakeside hires, including new interview questions and new guidelines for identifying leadership qualities among staff.
  • A new manual is being written with the help of Greg Petry, an outside consultant who worked for 30 years as executive director of the Waukegan Park District.
  • Previously, a lifeguard’s swim speed was used as the basis for assigning beach assignments. Now, more subjective qualities such as maturity, judgment, attention to detail, interactions with colleagues and the public, and responses to pressure will factor into decisions, according to Thompson.

To rebuild rescue personnel and create a lifeguard training program, the city worked with Petry, who recruited Merrill Riley, a professional lifeguard from Los Angeles.

Riley, who recently retired, worked for the Los Angeles County Fire Department as an ocean lifeguard captain for 38 years. He brings extensive experience in ocean monitoring, lifeguard training and certification.

The RT spoke to Riley, who talked about the team he’s building at Evanston to help him run a training program for new recruits. The city’s new lifeguard academy will include 10 hours of training for nine consecutive days and will begin on June 1.

A parallel program developed by YWCA staff is also implemented for every lakefront employee, regardless of age, title or level of experience. It will delve into healthy relationships, abuse of power, and grooming, which is defined as “the slow, methodical, and intentional process of manipulating a person to a point where they can be victimized.”

Grooming awareness focuses on learning what it looks like, who to report it, what to expect when making a report, and your options if you are unhappy with the official response. A human resources person will be involved at each step. There will also be a way to file criminal reports anonymously via Text-A-Tip.

Thompson said the important point for Lakeside staff to understand is that there are many people available and willing to help within Parks & Rec, Human Resources or even the Evanston Police Department. if necessary. If a member of staff feels uncomfortable, they should let someone know. “I have an open door policy. I want them to know I’m accessible,” Thompson said.

Playing in the sand on South Boulevard Beach, Evanston Credit: Wendi Kromach

Although the new manual is still being finalized, one element is non-negotiable: the use of mobile phones and social media during work. Any posting to social media while you are on the lifesaving tower is a dismissable offense.

Another training seminar that all Lakeside employees are required to attend focuses on suicide prevention, recognizing the signs, and how to talk to someone — and what to do — if someone is considering self-harm. .

Thompson’s focus on safety even extends to new uniform options. Men will receive swimsuits and shirts, and women will receive one-piece swimsuits, shorts and optional shirts. All staff are issued visors and whistles. Bathing suits should be worn by lifeguards on the bleachers, but shorts and t-shirts may be worn for office work and tasks that do not require going into the water.

Thompson is concerned with protecting youthful skin from too much unhealthy sun exposure. “It’s not about body shaming,” she said. “Last year’s abuses were about power. We want our staff to feel comfortable and safe at work.

Thompson, Callahan and Carter told the young employees that they needed to be flexible and open to schedule changes based on fluctuating conditions such as crowd size and weather.

Thompson said she was very aware of the changing lakeside culture. Many employees with institutional knowledge and history are no longer there, so she and her team are charting a new course. She considers this a work in progress, but has been gratified by the community support she has received.

The patience of the community

Thompson specifically mentioned that she appreciates the grace and understanding shown by the Evanston boating community. Permit issues have delayed lakeside sand dredging near the Church Street boat launch, which is expected to be completed on opening day.

There is a backlog of seasonal storage permit renewals, which the city is processing as quickly and efficiently as possible, she said.

Thompson said any boater she spoke to said words to the effect of, “We understand what an important task you have to rebuild the lakeside staff. We understood.”

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