Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 5:25 PM on Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Community rec not just fun and games


It's hard not to catch Mike Illg's enthusiasm when he outlines his vision for a healthy, thriving community. Illg, the community recreation director for the city of Homer, is passionate about his job and sees all kinds of potential for improving the quality of life for Homer residents through a strong — make that, even stronger — community rec program.

Not an athlete? No worries. The kind of community rec Illg has in mind is all inclusive. There's something in it for everyone — no matter what their age, their interests, their gender, their abilities or their income. While community rec certainly includes sports like playing basketball and ping pong and all manner of other activities, it's also about learning new skills — a language, perhaps, or gardening, or technology, or you name it. But it isn't just about doing things, as far as Illg is concerned, it's about social interaction.

The community rec program Illg envisions promotes wellness and health and is at least part of the answer to the health-care problems being debated nationwide. If that sounds far-fetched, remember an increasing body of research shows that we're healthier when we make strong connections with others. Illg's vision of community rec does that.

There are economic sides to his vision of a strong — again, stronger — community rec program. For one, it promotes entrepreneurship by giving people a chance to share their skills and passions with others. For another, it makes the community a more affordable place to live by providing everyone from toddlers and teens to young families and senior citizens affordable and accessible recreational and educational opportunities.

If you've participated in any of the hundreds of community rec programs available in Homer you might be thinking: "Well, that sounds a lot like what exists right now." And you'd be right to a degree.

But there's one missing element: a home for Homer's community rec program.

The old Homer Intermediate School, which is now being called the Homer Education and Recreation Complex, or HERC, could provide that home. With a prime downtown location, some green space and the room to invite all kinds of partnerships and collaborations with existing nonprofit groups and other agencies, Illg sees the potential for the city's community recreation program to become a community cornerstone.

He's right. It's a vision that could become reality with lots of hard work. It could make Homer an even better place to live.

Illg is not naive about the barriers his vision — and that of others — must overcome to become a reality. Chief among the hurdles: How do you fund both the renovations and a growing program?

Like a lot of other worthwhile programs, it's not likely a city-run community rec program could pay for itself — at least in dollars. But such an investment could be of incalculable value if it improved the health and well being of community residents.

And there are tenants ready to partner in the renovation of the building — namely, the Kenai Peninsula Boys and Girls Club.

Finding funding to repurpose the old school building for a community recreation program and partner agencies may not be easy, but it's definitely worth the effort. Illg's vision deserves a chance to become reality.