by BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
If you ask Dwight Godwin a question, be prepared to get the answer.
“I speak my mind around here,” Godwin said during an interview Friday morning in his office at the Herb Sims Youth Center. Godwin was hired to serve as director of the Bluefield Parks and Recreation Department on Oct. 9, 2012, and after one year on the job, he has earned a track record of speaking his mind on issues important to his department.
There have been some changes at the department during Godwin’s first year. Some changes like the new floor in the city auditorium and restroom renovation project in the Sims Youth Center were already in the works, but Godwin has been active in developing partnerships in the community to stage the inaugural Appalachian Teen Challenge Horse Show, and the department’s restoration work at some of the smaller playgrounds in the city.
“No matter where I’ve been during my 25 years in this field, I have always striven to leave a place better than I found it,” Godwin said. “That’s not saying anything against the directors who served in this position before I got here. I feel that if I can make improvements to the department, I will have done my job.”
Godwin didn’t grow up in a community with a recreation department. “We had boys and girls clubs in my neighborhood,” he said. “Another neighborhood near us had a recreation department with sports leagues and uniforms.”
Godwin, 48, grew up in Hampton, Va., graduated from Hampton High School in 1983, and earned his undergraduate degree in 1987 from Ferrum College, where he played strong safety for the Ferrum College Panthers football team.
“After college, I didn’t want to go into coaching,” Godwin said. “This field has a sports education component along with community activities and more. This is a profession where you can see the fruits of your work. The real success of this job is in community relations.” Godwin is a certified leisure professional, but he holds numerous certifications.
Godwin and his wife, Burnetta, have been married 25 years. They have three children, two boys and one girl, who are in the process of completing their education, or are already in their respective careers.
In terms of the department, Godwin has been focusing on two primary goals — quality and retention. “I played strong safety at Ferrum, but I haven’t played any other varsity sports. I played some basketball, but I never played baseball. Still, I have a passion for all sports. I enjoy sports. I have worked as a football official on the high school and collegiate level.
“As a recreation department, we depend on volunteers who are in it for the right reasons,” he said. “Volunteers are the lifeblood of this organization. You’ve got to have volunteers, and they need to know what you need from them to make the programs work. That is why people skills are so important in this profession,” he said. “Without people skills, you’re done. You need to be able to read the skills and strengths of your volunteers to make the program work.”
Since he took the position, Godwin said that the thing that has surprised him the most about the department, and the area, is the level of community support that there is for parks and recreation.
“I was surprised by how much the people want this program to be successful,” he said. “That was what surprised me. Just how many people want the department to succeed.
“We’ve been able to do some nice things in the community,” he said. “We’ve been partnering with some good programs. Do we have more room to grow? Yes we do. The most important thing for us is image. We look for partnering opportunities that will enhance our image. I don’t believe in associations with anything that will damage our image.”
Godwin said that with only five full-time employees, it’s important for the recreation department to demonstrate an ability to deliver on promises, to establish a tradition of providing services and to develop programs that can be sustained. “Your track record speaks a lot,” he said. “When you do it right, it makes it easier on you in the future.
“This place has so much potential,” he said. “We have so many facilities here. I think it’s important for us to fix what we have first. You need to take care of what you have.”
With community playground upgrades, renovations to the city auditorium and youth center and other programs moving forward Godwin said that the department is headed in a positive direction. “We would like to start thinking about adding new things like a dog park,” he said. “Also, water parks can be more beneficial to a community than a swimming pool. A pad with a nozzle can be more enjoyable to a greater number of people.
“With a swimming pool that’s open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, if you have one overcast day, no one will come to the pool,” he said. “That’s a challenge for staffing. A water park can almost manage itself.”
Still, Godwin takes a pragmatic approach to managing his department. “In recreation, your goal is to break even,” he said. “Recreation was never designed to make a profit. Still, it is one of your core services when people look at your community.”
Godwin said that along with recreation, people look at public safety and fire protection along with water, sewer and highway infrastructure. “A lot of those services are there when a resident has a problem,” he said. “Any experience with the recreation department should always be a positive experience.”
In recent years, the popular Holiday of Lights in Lotito Park has been one of those positive experiences that many people have come to enjoy. “It will be back again this year starting on Nov. 28, and running through the holiday season into the start of next year,” Godwin said.
The department will launch an entirely new venture on Nov. 5, and continuing on each Tuesday through Dec. 17 — a “Holiday Winter Farmers Market” at the Herb Sims Youth Center from 10 a.m., until 2 p.m., each Tuesday.
Requirements for participation include: Only local produce from Mercer, Tazewell, Bland, Summers Monroe and McDowell counties will be accepted; vendors will be required to clean their area at the end of each day; jams, jellies, honey and baked goods are acceptable; no foul language; no tobacco products; no firearms; produce must be cleaned before displaying and selling; vendor’s fee is a $10 one-time fee for the seven weeks of the Holiday Winter Farmers Market. Contact 304-327-7501 for more information.
“It will be right here inside the youth center,” Godwin said. “It gives people the opportunity to support our local farmers. There’s also a social component of the program. It provides an opportunity for people to get together and visit.”
Godwin said that he welcomes public input into the program. “If people have concerns, they can express them,” he said. “I’m a big boy. I can handle all of that.” In addition, he said that the community has the power to direct the department’s future.
“Tell us what kind of facilities you want,” he said. “I don’t go out and set up all of these facilities because they are what I want. Our job is to learn from the community.”
Godwin is a true student of the profession, and has observed trends through the years. “A lot of people don’t get the opportunities that we have here,” he said. “Recreation is something that people can enjoy regardless of age. It doesn’t need to be active. It can be passive and still be enjoyable.”
— Contact Bill Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org