PDOP Recognized With 2024 IPRA Awards

Park District of Oak Park Recognized as Leader in DEI, Outstanding Facilities and Workplace Culture

OAK PARK, IL (Feb. 27, 2024) – The Park District of Oak Park was honored by the Illinois Park and Recreation Association (IPRA) with three awards during the association’s annual conference in January, including:

· Champion for Change Award recognizing excellence in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the community

· Outstanding Facility Award recognizing unique achievements in the design and development of new or enhanced facilities

· Exceptional Workplace Award recognizing outstanding commitment to employees’ health and wellness, in addition to a positive work culture


“Inclusion, accessibility, innovation and wellness are top priorities at the Park District of Oak Park,” said Jan Arnold, Executive Director of the Park District of Oak Park. “Our staff and Board are dedicated to cultivating a positive experience for everyone in our community. We’re humbled by the recognition of our work and are excited to continue building upon these achievements.”

The Park District of Oak Park established a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Staff Committee in 2018 to identify opportunities to advance the organization’s commitment to inclusion across parks, facilities, programs and operations. In 2021, the Park District hired a full-time recruiter to expand efforts to reach diverse candidates, resulting in an increase in Black, Brown and LBGTQ+ staff members.

The Park District requires all full- and part-time staff to engage in eight online diversity training sessions and recently expanded training to seasonal employees and Park Board members.

“Congratulations to the Park District of Oak Park on being selected by their peers for this prestigious and meaningful award. IPRA is proud to showcase their dedication to and efforts related to DEI,” said Suzi Wirtz, IOM, Executive Director of IPRA. “It’s inspiring to see the work being done that will ultimately not just change one community but make the world a better place.”


The Park District Community Recreation Center (CRC), which opened in 2023, was recognized with the Outstanding Facility Award. The CRC was developed as part of the Park District’s comprehensive master plan after conducting a feasibility study and holding community meetings to identify residents’ needs including access to affordable fitness and wellness programs, safe spaces for teens and youth, and community resources.

The resulting 42,000-square-foot facility hosts a range of recreational, community and wellness programs for the Oak Park area, including:

· Free indoor walking track

· Affordable gym memberships with access to the gymnasium, fitness center and Esports Lounge

· Fitness studio

· Free after-school programming for middle and high school students: open gym, activities, tutoring, trusted social worker

· Inclusive locker rooms

· Community resource referrals for mental health and wellness through the Community Mental Health Board

The Community Recreation Center was designed with an emphasis on environmental sustainability, including using energy-efficient ventilation systems and solar power technology. The Park District paid for $15.6 million of the $22 million cost of the recreation center with private donations, grants and capital improvement funds, without raising taxes for the development.

“The Park District of Oak Park’s Community Recreation Center is a model for inclusivity on the highest level,” said Dr. Kassie Porreca, Park District of Oak Park Board President. “We were intentional about engaging our community from the very beginning to understand their needs and how CRC would positively impact them. Our programs serve more than 1,000 youth of different races, cultures and identities who come together and can be themselves. We put several measures in place, such as mental health services and gender-neutral locker rooms, to help everyone feel welcomed and supported. It’s a true representation of what makes Oak Park great.”

Additionally, the IPRA and Illinois Association of Park Districts recently presented key leaders in the CRC’s development with 2023 Community Service Awards, which honor individuals and organizations who made significant contributions to enhancing parks, recreation and the arts in Illinois. Those recipients included:

· Illinois Senate President and Oak Park native Don Harmon

· Illinois State Representative LaShawn Ford

· Illinois State Representative Camille Lilly

· Camille Wilson White, Executive Director of the Oak Park Area Arts Council


The Park District of Oak Park was also recognized as an exceptional workplace. The Park District is the largest employer of youth in Oak Park and provides employee benefits, including scheduling flexibility, professional development resources and wellness programs. A 2024 staff survey shows an average job satisfaction score of 96 out of 100.

The Park District established staff committees surrounding wellness, DEI, safety and innovation, encouraging employees to be active partners in shaping and implementing Park District programs. The Park District implemented Safe Zone staff conversations on racism, LatinX culture and LGBTQ identity, in conjunction with a series of online trainings for all staff. Additionally, it established a “Big Idea” program, which encourages staff to pitch and potentially receive project funding for new services, processes and procedures, such as battery-powered lawn equipment and solar panels.

“Our staff are our greatest asset. Their dedication, creativity and passion for serving our community are the driving force behind everything we do,” said Arnold. “The Park District is committed to supporting our staff through professional development, work-life balance, personal wellness goals and inviting feedback.”


Following the IPRA recognition, the Park District announced a design competition to renovate its Field Center, enhancing the historic facility to meet its growing childcare and children’s programming needs. Additionally, the open competition and blind review process are intended to ensure that designers and architects of all backgrounds have an opportunity to compete on the same stage as groups that are traditionally more visible. The competition closes on March 5.

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About Park District of Oak Park: The Park District of Oak Park serves the recreation needs of Oak Park’s 54,000 residents, providing nearly 8,000 programs and special events annually throughout our versatile recreation centers, 18 parks totaling 84 acres, a community recreation center, two outdoor pools, indoor ice rink, gymnastic center, the Oak Park Conservatory, Cheney Mansion and Pleasant Home. Since 1912, our high-quality programs and well-maintained parks and facilities have dependably met residents’ diverse leisure, wellness, childcare and other needs and helped enhance quality of life. Learn more at https://www.pdop.org/.

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