Tuesday, August 11, 2015

August Staff Spotlight: Lauren Gerber, Therapeutic Recreation Division

Name and title: 
Lauren Gerber, Recreation Supervisor with the Therapeutic Recreation Division

Background in your field (education, employment, hobbies, etc.):
Education:  B.S. in Leisure Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; M.P.A in Public Administration/Public Management from Fairleigh Dickinson University
Background: I got job when I was 16 working for the South Suburban Special Recreation Association in the Chicago suburbs (where I grew up). I started as a counselor for campers with severe/profound disabilities ages 6-21. I wanted to work with the little kids only but my supervisors put me on the camp with the teens and adults. The running joke was: “We didn’t tell Lauren what we signed her up for.” Yet the next year I begged to be put back on the same camp, something that was unheard of. I spent five years on that camp and eventually became the site supervisor, overseeing the daily operations. It was then that I decided to change my major to Leisure Studies because I really enjoyed the field of therapeutic recreation.

What is your favorite thing about your job?
The rapport I develop with participants and their families. It usually starts with a simple phone call. A parent will call me and tell me about their child and expect to hear, “No, we can’t accommodate his or her needs,” and when I say yes, we can, they open up. We share stories (I have a brother on the autism spectrum) about struggles with behaviors, schools and more. And then their child (this can be a child, teen or adult) comes to our programs and has a wonderful time; they keep coming back and I am able to watch their family grow and change. From good times to bad, we are really a tight-knit group who are there for each other. Families come to me for resources, not always recreation based, and I am able to make a few phone calls to other participants’ parents/guardians, and point them in the right direction. It’s a win-win situation.

As a therapeutic recreation staffer, what has been your biggest goal for the Park System when it comes to our patrons with special needs?
To understand that everyone has a right to recreation and it is not a one fits all approach. There is a reason for separate therapeutic programming and there is a reason for inclusive recreation. We just need to find the right fit for each participant.

What do you feel is the most important thing for our visitors to know about the Park System’s therapeutic recreation options?
That we are here. I still get so many calls with people surprised my department exists!

What is your favorite park to visit and why?
The Manasquan Reservoir, not only is it beautiful but the Environmental Center is awesome, and it is one of the few parks where I cannot get lost on the trails. I have the world’s worst sense of direction and with the trail being a loop, it’s easy!

What is your favorite program in the Park System?
Tea at Historic Walnford. Site Supervisor Sarah Bent does such a wonderful job on the program. Not only is it tasty, but you get an in depth look into the history of Walnford.

Outside of the Park System, what is your favorite thing to do in your off time?
I enjoy crafting, reading and traveling. My husband and I try to visit at least one national park every year, and I am always in the middle of a crochet project.

If you could give one tip to our visitors about our Monmouth County parks, what would it be?
Visit us! You'll be happy that you did!

If you have a child with special needs and would like to learn about the Monmouth County Park Systems therapeutic recreation and inclusion services, contact Lauren at 732-460-1167, ext. 22, or email Lauren.Gerber@monmouthcountyparks.com.

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