Cassidy McCombs loves her job. She practically shines when I ask about it. She can talk about her work with such ease and confidence because she really knows her job, inside and out. In a way, she has known it for half her life. She was an Adventure Quest kid herself in 4th and 5th grade. She recalls the program as the cool thing to do after school. A place where kids wanted to go, not just somewhere they had to pass the time. She didn’t know it at the time, but her career path was born out of those mornings and afternoons in Adventure Quest.
Anna, previously an Enrichment Coordinator with RAPRD, was Cassidy’s Adventure Quest Lead. Cassidy looked to Anna and saw her future. “She was my absolute idol, Cassidy recalls, “I remember really looking up to her. She was so creative and so outgoing. I really wanted to be her one day.”
Cassidy’s relationship with Anna went beyond a child’s hero worship, growing into a fond mentorship. “I taught a few classes for her and then taught some classes with her. I volunteered all through middle school.” This experience, and Anna’s guidance and encouragement, gave Cassidy the skills and love of working with kids she hopes will form the foundation of a future nursing career. She explains she is not nervous about public speaking because she has to do it at work every day. “You have to be outgoing, not be shy in front of the kids.” In addition to giving her confidence, her early years with Adventure Quest also gave her direction. “Volunteering got me more interested in working with kids,” she says. “As a kid, I really wanted to work with animals. Through volunteering, I knew this is what I wanted to do. I debated becoming a kindergarten teacher. It was either that or nursing, but nursing is what I’m called to do, I think.”
Even aside from Anna, it is clear that Cassidy doesn’t lack for strong female role models. Her twin older sisters were Adventure Quest volunteers when she was a participant in the program, and she looks up to her mom, and shares her passion for working with kids and keeping them healthy. When she was in elementary school, her mom worked as a lunch lady and went back to college to finish her degree. Cassidy notes with admiration that she is now the Assistant Director of Nutrition Services for the whole school district.
Some of her mom’s interests seem to have unconsciously worn off on Cassidy. When asked what she is looking forward to about Camp Adventure Quest this summer, she raves about staff plans to intensify their focus on nutrition and healthy eating habits through Commit to Health, an initiative of the National Recreation and Park Association. “I’m really excited about the healthy food thing we’re going to bring into Camp this year. We’ll be cooking food with the kids and then incorporating our own snacks that they make into our snack bin. Healthy food choices are essential to keeping the Camp Adventure Quest kids active through the long summer days. “We constantly are taking walks. They can grab a protein bar or a bag of trail mix that they made, in little bags. That’s way better than a Rice Krispies treat.”
This year, Cassidy got her wish, in a way, to be like Anna, when she took over the Vern Patrick program as Lead. When I ask what is it about RAPRD that made her want to come back to this job for a second year, rather than try out another field, Cassidy is adamant. “I love all the people I work with. I love all the kids. I feel really appreciated in what I do. I feel like I’m valued…Like I’m helpful. I make a difference in all these kids’ lives.” She can’t help grinning when she thinks about her kids. “Some of them I have from 7 in the morning to 6:30 in the evening. You learn everything about them, all their little quirks, and you love every single one of them. How could you not?” Cassidy plans to continue working at Adventure Quest when she begins her studies at COCC after graduation. “It’s a split shift, so it’s perfect,” she says. “I can take day classes or night classes.”
Although Camp Adventure Quest is a busy program, focused on keeping kids active and outside, what Cassidy enjoys the most are the quieter moments with the kids. “I look forward to the time when we come inside together and talk and hang out, color with them, just touch base.” This time together forms deep trust relationships, and, for many of the kids, their Adventure Quest Lead is a person they can bring their darkest problems to. This responsibility weighs on Cassidy. She says she got through a tough weekend recently after one of her kids shared some personal thoughts and asked for help. “That was really hard for me,” she says. She was able to talk it through with the child, and helped them connect with the resourcesthey needed through the schools. They came back to her this week to talk again, so she gained the reassurance that she has the skills and instincts to help kids feel loved and important.
As she reflects on her years in RAPRD programs, as a participant, a volunteer, and now as a staff member, she considers how it shaped her childhood, and also her skills as an adult. “I took swim lessons, I did soccer, I did Missoula Children’s Theater, a hip hop dance class. My brother and sisters also did the theater program and my sisters both did soccer all the way through. My brother played racquetball and took a LEGO robotics class. It [RAPRD] got me outside more than sitting around at my house all day instead of doing nothing. I was moving, talking to people, and building relationships.” Now, as she looks forward to graduating and working toward her future goals, she explains how Adventure Quest in particular has impacted her life. She largely credits her time volunteering with Anna as helping shape the confident, organized, patient person she has become. “Anna really helped me, pushing me to be a leader,” she recognizes. “I feel like I’ve been able to connect with kids and with parents…Being an adult, learning how to communicate with an adult on a professional level without feeling like a kid. This job has really helped me become an adult.”
“Parks and rec has definitely helped make me the person I am today,” Cassidy says. “They helped me grow, and have been there every step of the way, from swimming lessons all the way through working for this amazing organization and I love it.”
RAPRD provides scholarships to help kids afford to participate in our programs. Adventure Quest and Camp Adventure Quest account for 58% of our scholarships. You can help send a child to Camp this summer by making a donation at Cascade Swim Center or the Activity Center behind Bi-Mart on Canal. You can donate by phone (541-548-7275) or online using the link below.
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