New Providence Recreation Opportunities Enhance its Status Among NJ Communities

Recreation Department officials, from left to right, Arlene Regan, Tzu-Lin Toner, and Bernadette Cuccaro. Credits: Mike Neavill

NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Add recreation opportunities for young and old as another reason why New Providence was recently selected as the best town for families in Union County and the eighth best in the state.

“New Providence is where recreation is a priority,” Community Activities Director Tzu-Lin Toner told members of the Borough Council.

Toner said her department strives to touch everyone’s lives by promoting healthy living and to build a sense of community through a diversity of program offerings.

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Toner presented a myriad of data substantiating her claims including total revenues of $625,000 in 2014, a 12 percent increase from the previous year.

Revenues have increased over 50 percent since 2008, when the department implemented Community Pass allowing residents to sign-up and pay for programs on-line.

Council President Michael Gennaro emphasized that revenues from recreation offerings were not a revenue source for the borough. All proceeds are used to cover the expenses and “paid for by people who use the services,” he said.

Another indication of acceptance of diverse offerings and, perhaps an influx of young families, programs registrations amounted to 7,000 in 2014 up 50 percent since 2008.

During the same time span, productivity has increased dramatically, with five part-time employees equivalent to 3.5 full-time employees remaining constant to handle the increased demand.

“We are definitely not twiddling our thumbs down at the Rec Department,” Toner said.

In addition to recreation fees, the department also manages multiple grants to upgrade and expand facilities to handle increased capacity.

Toner said the department’s mission was to provide affordable programs to enhance and enrich the lives of borough residents from toddlers to seniors. New programs are evaluated and implemented, unsuccessful programs are shed as the department adapts to the town’s changing needs.

Program Coordinator Bernadette Cuccaro said that this summer the department is offering 234 programs aimed at children aged 3 to 16.

“We employ more than 80 people, ages 16 plus, to work seasonally at our camps and programs as counselors, swim instructors, coaches, music instructors and summer enrichment teachers,” she said.

However, summer activities aren’t limited to bats, balls and pools. Through collaboration with the Board of Education, an enrichment program allows students to hone their skills in science, technology, engineering and math.

Cuccaro said that in response to feedback, classes have been lengthened from 60 to 90 minutes. Classes are taught by BOE teachers but program registrations and payroll is handled by the Rec Department.

An increase in summer programs also marks an increase in staffing providing employment opportunities for high school students.

“Our employee return rate, year-to-year, is over 90 percent, making getting a camp job something special,” Cuccaro said.

Perhaps the highest complement of offered summer programs come from program coordinators in other towns calling to ask “how we do it,” Cuccaro said.

In 2014, Toner said that more than 50 youngsters received financial assistance to families in need from the recreation Trust Fund.

The New Providence Recreation Guide available at the Rec Department at the Municipal Center is a resource families might want to take a look at.

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