Interview with National Recreation Foundation Trustee – Jim Pearce

August 10, 2018

In this post I am sharing highlights from a conversation that I had with NRF Trustee, Jim Pearce. Jim lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and he helps NRF identify interesting and effective recreation programs for at-risk youth in the Greater Cincinnati area.  In my conversation with Jim, we talked about his experience as an NRF trustee and his perspective on the importance of recreation, as well as what he personally enjoys doing for recreation. We also discussed some of the programs he has sponsored over the years, including a unique collaboration between two grantee partners.

Tell us a little about your experience as a NRF Board of Trustees member. 

I have enjoyed the work of the Board and the terrific people – both the other Board members and our staff.

Most of all, I have enjoyed the more personal and hands-on involvement in community grant- making that the NRF system requires. The NRF experience is unique, because at NRF I am not just a Board member, but I:

  • Am charged with having a comprehensive understanding of my community. I am always combing the landscape to find potential applicant organizations that are offering innovative programs building life skills in Cincinnati-area youth through recreation
  • Investigate the applicant organization’s reputation and track record
  • Orient the applicant organization to the NRF system and expectations
  • Serve as a sounding board for the organization as it crafts a proposal
  • Monitor the organization’s grant performance with site visits and check-ins
  • Review interim and final reports
  • Respond to NRF staff questions about the organization and its programs.

It has been an honor to represent the Foundation in the Greater Cincinnati community.

How does recreation play an important role in your life? 

I am not a golfer or tennis player. My lower back would not hear of it starting at an early age. I was a jogger up to 50 and then my back spoke to me again. I am a fisherman and belong to an angling club and join them for various outings. I have hooked my four grandkids, to various degrees, into the great joy of catching a fish. It’s a riot!

Now I prefer my therapeutic exercise regimen: Pilates 2-3 days a week and, on the off days, I walk one-two miles. Whether exercise is recreational by your definition or not, it is something that I do that makes me feel better, clears the brain and aids a restful night. It certainly kept me sane when I was working.

Is there a program you have sponsored via NRF that stands out as particularly innovative or successful? 

Shortly after I was invited to join the NRF Board of Trustees, I connected with staff members at the United Way of Cincinnati with whom I had worked in the past. I asked them which were among the best organizations in the youth recreational and development area. Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati (BGCGC) and Camp Joy were high on the list. Recognizing the important work each organization does in the Greater Cincinnati region, NRF ended up awarded grants to each organization.

What I found most intriguing was the collaborative partnership between the two organizations – BGCGC and Camp Joy were working together to bring some of the BGCGC kids to Camp Joy for a week of summer camp. According to Camp Joy, experience at camp results in a multitude of positive outcomes for at-risk youth, such as as leadership development, increased self-esteem, and enhanced social skills. Most of the BGCGC kids loved the Camp Joy experience, and word got back to rest of BGCGC kids about the neat week their friends had at camp. Each year more kids wanted to experience Camp Joy. Resources were at capacity. Camp Joy and BGCGC were working hard to raise money to build on this success. NRF worked with Camp Joy on some strategies to enhance capacity, but at the same time, the Cincinnati United Way was raising less money and shifting priorities away from Camp Joy and BGCGC. As a result, Camp Joy’s summer capacity was again limited. Then someone came up with the brilliant notion: why not have winter weekend mini-camps at Camp Joy for BGCGC youth?

The human and financial efficacy of this approach is now being tested,and we are interested to evaluate the outcomes of this new program.

You have referred to the success of Camp Joy and BGCGC partnership. What would you say are some of the key elements of a successful program or what are some characteristics that you look for when you are considering programs that you would like to recommend for support?

  1. A solid, respected partner organization: Good reputation; good people (honest, committed); good business model.
  2. An organization with innovative programs and ambitious plans of what they want to accomplish. Quite often these kinds of programs may have some incremental risk attached to them. Supporting the status quo may be fine when one is trying to get to know an organization, but I like to see and help my experienced grantees move their organization forward. These kinds of grants do have higher risks.
  3. Program evaluation is key. An organization must measure success of outcomes, and then make program adjustments based on those results. There’s always room for improvement, and the best programs are always seeking to improve outcomes for the youth they serve.

Jim Pearce has served on the National Recreation Foundation Board of Trustees for over a decade. He has been influential in the Foundation’s leadership and strategic planning. Thanks, Jim for all you do for the NRF and for taking the time to share a little more about your story.