OCEAN PINES — When popular Director of Recreation and Parks Mike Howell resigned earlier this year, the search began immediately to find someone who could fill his shoes. More than 150 people believed they were capable of doing just that.
Soyna Bounds was among the applicants, but when she was offered the job and accepted it this week it wasn’t for her ability to fill anyone’s shoes so much as it was her vision for stepping out of them and taking the department slowly in a new direction.
While it is true Bounds had the luxury of being able to try out for the job while she continued as interim director, it’s important to note that she spent her energy showing how the department could be slowly altered rather than how it could be run the same.
“It’s difficult dealing with someone else’s plan,” she said. “A lot of times people can’t see what works and what doesn’t when they’re too close to it.”
Bounds attempted no overhaul but rather tweaked a program here, re-imagined one there and instituted new policies aimed at thoroughly investigating the department’s strengths and shortcomings.
Not only was her performance a factor in her being offered the position, but also it laid the groundwork for what she said will be a radically different department next year beginning with mostly cosmetic changes.
Bounds’ charge is to make programs better and more attractive. To that end, one of her primary concerns is to keep adding and discarding programs on their participation merits. Each year the program guide is essentially the same, which means if a person wasn’t interested in participating in something the previous year, he or she will probably continue not to participate and leave the program guide unread.
By adding programs and making changes to existing ones, Bounds said she believes people will be reengaged by the program guide and take the time to see what is new in it. This will have the dual affect of getting people interested in what the department has to offer and potentially getting them to rethink programs they might have been on the fence about in the past.
“I don’t want to say [some programs] are getting tired,” she said. “But they are getting a little worn out.’
The entire staff has been encouraged to participate and the new attitude has already begun to show some benefits.
For example, the department has been running bus trips for years but will now focus on extending both the scope and reach of the trips, concentrating as much on family outings as day tripping for seniors.
Bounds also hopes to reinvigorate the community participation aspect of the department by working to have major events for the entire community. The programs she has in mind, which include a haunted trail in the park hopefully by Halloween 2012 and a major Christmas celebration, have not yet been approved or even really pitched in a meaningful way to the administration. Instead, they serve examples about how differently the department is willing to think when it comes to revising and inaugurating programs.
But the biggest challenge, as she sees it, is getting the word out that the Ocean Pines Recreation and Parks Department is not exclusively for members.
Bounds pointed to the success the OPA had with enticing non-members and residents from the surrounding areas to participate in the aquatic programs. From her perspective, the same emphasis could be applied to all OPA programs.
More importantly, as she enters her 10th year of employment in the department, she has a vision for the future. Doing anything for 10 years will give a person a sense of what works and what doesn’t but it also gives a sense of what 10 years of very little revision is like.
Bounds pointed to the girl’s softball program, which was popular enough at one point to field at least eight teams. This year there were only enough players for two teams while demand to play lacrosse keeps growing.
“Sports go in cycles,” she said. “By this time next year we expect to have a lot of new programs in place.”