A few minutes with: Nancy Winzer, Parks & Recreation Director of the City of Port Huron

Just ask Nancy Winzer, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Port Huron. Involved with the region’s recreation since first working as a lifeguard more than 26 years ago, Winzer understands that the vitality of Port Huron is significantly enriched by its beaches, pools and 26 public parks. All of these locales make it a place where people can live, work and play, and improving on these offerings can only augment what Winzer and her team of dedicated employees and volunteers have already established.

That’s where the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and its partners come in. Over the past few years, Port Huron has used Built to Play funding to revamp its popular Optimist Park, adding a playground and new skatepark. Last summer, it used monies secured from Built to Play’s Play Everywhere Challenge to construct its “Palmer Coast,” a large slide that allows kids to replicate winter sledding in the summertime inside the city’s Palmer Park.

The latter was an incredibly inventive idea, and it was just the type of initiative championed by the Play Everywhere Challenge, established by KaBOOM! and supported by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. Over the past two years, through Built to Play the Challenge has provided organizations a total of $1 million annually to create community-designed installations that bring play to unexpected but everyday spaces, making it easy and available for kids and families. The Play Everywhere Challenge encourages people to think about spaces that could become PLAYces: whether it’s a laundromat, grocery store, sidewalk, bus stop, or somewhere else, these often-banal situations can turn into stimulating, creative outlets for play.

The Play Everywhere Challenge, now in its third year, will open a call for project ideas in April 2020, and will seek applicants that have ideas to transform corners of their communities into creative escapes for kids. Nancy Winzer knows what kind of effect these spaces can have. In the Q&A below, she talks about the importance of recreation and what this year’s applicants need to know before applying.

Question: What role does recreation play in the overall identity of Port Huron?

Nancy Winzer: The best way I can describe it is [with a question]: If you could live anywhere you wanted—and you didn’t have to worry about things like money or family—where would you live, and why? Wherever you choose, you’d probably pick a place that had great recreation assets. It’s an important part of any community, because people want to be in a place where there’s a lot to do.

In Port Huron, we have our beaches and water, but we also have recreation in our neighborhoods so that families can enjoy living here; and places like theatres and ice arenas that bring people to our downtown and have an economic impact. Recreation’s a huge part of any city, and it’s a huge part of Port Huron. It makes it a place where people want to be. 

Q: How did you first become involved with grant opportunities through the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation?

NW: I first became involved with the Foundation through my work with one of its youth sports task force groups. Once I became familiar with their State of Play report and all of the things was doing, I became so excited. They were all initiatives that I believed in, but didn’t always have the support to execute throughout our parks.

We have a lot of parks—and not a lot of budget—so anything we can do to provide innovative play for the kids in our community, we’re going to do. So when I heard about the grant opportunities available through the Foundation, we decided to give it a try and apply.   

Q: What kind of impact have the three projects had on recreation and the overall makeup of the Port Huron community?

NW: They’re providing spaces for kids to play. We have to continue to be innovative with what we create for kids, to get them off their phones and iPads, get them outside and keep them active. [With our three projects], we’ve proven that, if you make things innovative and cool, kids will come out and play.

Last week, Optimist Park was packed—and it’s February. I have kids that are now traveling from outside of the city to experience these new [park] features. To me, this is a pretty big testimony that these projects are working. 

Q: If you could offer three tips to those planning to submit applications for the next Play Everywhere Challenge, what would they be?

NW: I can tell you right off the top of my head.

  1. Be as innovative as you can. As competitive as this has become, innovative ideas that you’d like to try will stand out. 
  2. Be ready. Make sure they know that, if your idea gets chosen, you, your team and your project is ready to go.
  3. Have a great location that can service kids with the most needs, as opposed to maybe an area with the most density.

For more information on KaBOOM! and the Play Everywhere Challenge, visit kaboom.org/grants/play_everywhere_challenge_built_to_play. For more info on the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, visit ralphcwilsonjrfoundation.org.

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