Savannah Harris is the newest Public Information Officer at Indy Parks. Below is her reflection of the 2023 Indy Parks Staff Conference.

Community is the very fabric of what we do at Indy Parks. This is evident in our park planning, neighborhood engagement, programming and more. We also believe that community begins within. We strive to champion our mission throughout every department and region. We visit our parks, participate in events and build relationships internally that helps our synergy. Serving a city with 214 unique parks can make face-to-face meetings a challenge. This is what makes the annual all-staff conference a remarkable opportunity to bring staff together, to celebrate success and to share ideas for the future. It also serves as a fun introduction to our department for new seasonal, part-time and full-time staff members.  


The Indy Parks & Recreation 2023 Staff Conference was held at the new Broad Ripple Park Family Center, which had its grand opening in January. For some staff, this was their first glimpse of the completed project! Tinker Coffee and Parlor Doughnuts helped introductions flow as 120 people filtered into the spacious gym.



After opening remarks by Director Phyllis Boyd, we split into randomized groups and engaged in an activity to learn more about our coworkers. Prompts ranged from favorite season to favorite movie and created a playful competition. Laughter set the perfect tone to this conference and embodies one of our core values as a department.



Ben Tapper Chief Diversity & Equity Officer for the Indianapolis Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging led the first panel focused on DEI. Ben shared their departmental goals and how they plan to support Indianapolis both internally for staff and externally for residents. There was an open discussion on new policies and how to engage in critical conversations. It was an insightful introduction that left us feeling optimistic about our movement towards equity and diversity in the workplace.



The Peace Learning Center followed with a talk on implicit bias. We explored the differences between implicit and explicit bias, key characteristics of implicit bias, and how to recognize and change behaviors fueled by unconscious bias. The speakers encouraged attendees to embrace discomfort and be open to learning through challenging conversations. We broke into small groups to share our own experiences and digest the content.  



Lunch provided the perfect opportunity for a brain break to discuss takeaways at our tables and catch up with fellow staff. Pizza, breadsticks and salad were generously donated by Context Design.  

The comprehensive master plan training outlined the document as a roadmap pointing in the direction we are heading as an organization. Next Practice Partners highlighted the importance of staff alignment to meet shared goals and how it significantly enhances productivity and outcomes. They discussed parks as essential resources and how the new comprehensive plan aims to activate Indianapolis parks through programs and people. Six major goals were set, and we split into groups based on department/region. We brainstormed ways to internalize and embody the “why” of Indy Parks in our various roles as staff and turned it into a plan of action. Each group then shared highlights from their discussions. 



The first set of breakout sessions included an interactive exploration of our social media policy, tips for programming in park spaces, updates on aquatics, and an informal, panel-style talk with leadership. Subsequent sessions focused on capital planning, special events, public safety, and tales from staff. The staff storytelling session allowed attendees to share favorite park memories and learning moments on the job. This discussion naturally transitioned into a conversation about the professional development interests of various staff members. Some topics discussed included child protective training, conflict resolution, more accessible and interactive training opportunities, and on-site small group trainings in between annual conferences to learn and develop skills.


Our 2023 staff conference was more than just a gathering; it was a celebration of unity and growth. The common thread of the day was the eagerness for parks staff to come together and share experiences, recognizing that each of us plays a part in representing the community we serve. We are grateful for The Parks Alliance making the sponsorships for our conference possible. This opportunity sparked a renewed sense of purpose, preparing us to continue our mission of enriching the lives of the Indianapolis community through our dedicated work in parks and recreation.