Proto’s Steady Hand Guides Norfolk Rec

Grace Allen
Norfolk Recreation Director  Ann Proto.
Issue Date: 
June, 2018
Article Body: 

In a small basement office, Norfolk Recreation is buzzing with energy. Ann Proto, the department’s director, is multitasking. After returning from checking on the town’s playing fields, she is busy interviewing a counselor for the department’s popular summer playground program. Her enthusiasm is evident.
“I love my job,” said Proto, who has been at the department’s helm since 1999, job-sharing the position the first two years before transitioning to a solo role.
With close to twenty years of overseeing Norfolk Recreation, Proto has developed a keen sense of what programs will be successful. Under her oversight, the offerings have grown and now provide something for everyone.
“Right from the beginning, one of our goals was to add enrichment programs,” she said. “It was very sports-oriented before, but it also had some wonderful programs that still exist today.”
Norfolk’s recreation department started in the late 1960s, soon after the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) was established. The NRPA’s mission is to support public parks, recreation, and conservation, and their role in enhancing the quality of life for all citizens.
According to Proto, Norfolk Recreation took in over 4,000 registrations for its programs last year. The department has about 50 summer programs, and slightly less in other seasons.
The summer concert series, held on the town’s common near the library, is a popular summer tradition organized by the department. The program has expanded and this year will include the Brown Sound Band with Grammy-award winning Eguie Castrillo, along with repeat favorites the Reminisants and the Berkshire Valley Boys. New this year, the concerts will start earlier in the month of June and end the first week of August, to take advantage of the summer daylight.
Adding preschool programs and expanding the summer playground programs are achievements Proto is most proud of.
“The summer playground program was in place when I started, and it was a free program at the time,” she said. “We have a lot more children attending now and we need a lot more counselors, so we have to charge a fee.”
The summer playground program is a daily drop-off program for children entering grades 2 to 6. Activities include supervised sports, games, and crafts. The program is staffed with 12 to 15 trained counselors each day, and takes place at the Pond Street recreation complex in town.
Along with perennial favorites like Sticky Fingers and Fun in the Sun, Proto has added new STEM-based programs for children, like Wicked Cool Vet School, as well as the before-school Lego Adventures program for early risers. Some of the programs are run in conjunction with organizations or businesses in town, like Fungineers and Ivy Music.
“We do like to collaborate with local businesses,” explained Proto. “We are self-funded so it enriches our offerings while giving them more exposure.”
During the winter, the Norfolk Wrentham Youth Basketball program is a favorite, with over 350 registrants each year. In the summer, the sports camps run by the King Philip High School coaches are very popular, said Proto. Staffed by varsity players and run by the coaches, the programs introduce children to sports like lacrosse and field hockey, as well as basketball.
There is a wide array of adult offerings, too, ranging from exercise classes to estate planning information. New programs this year include Introduction to Mindful Meditation and Nutrition Workshop for Parents. Men’s pay-as-you-go basketball and futsal are always popular, she adds.
Proto tries to keep the fees as low as possible to encourage residents to try out programs, and notes that financial assistance is available for eligible Norfolk residents.
A member of several state and national recreation associations, Proto said there is a vast network of resources available to help her choose which programs to offer.
“I do try to come up with new ideas myself, but I am also happy not to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “If something is working for someone else, it could be a good idea for me, too.”
Proto says her long-term goals for the department include building its own facility, as well as a concession stand and bathrooms, at the Pond Street complex. She also hopes to increase the number of playing fields at the complex and is working to acquire more acreage from the state.
The Recreation Department’s philosophy, written on the cover of its brochure, is to build community spirit, health, and opportunity, said Proto.
“Trying to do those things for this community really means a lot to me,” shared Proto, who recently moved to Franklin. “My kids grew up in this community. I lived here for a long time. My heart is still in Norfolk.”
With its diverse programming and passive and active leisure activities for all ages, Proto can rest assured that Norfolk Recreation helps make Norfolk a great place to live, work, and play.
For more information about Norfolk Recreation, or to register for programs, visit Sponsorship opportunities are also available for small and large businesses through the department’s banner program. See the website for details.