Parks and Recreation Supporting Mental Health Challenges


Mental illness in the United States has become pervasive, with individuals suffering from many disorders. There are opportunities for practitioners in our field to support mental health challenges that many individuals face every day. The session will provide an overview of mental health issues facing us as a society, increase awareness of the myriad of disorders that exist, and how the park and recreation industry can play a role in providing support to mental health agencies, mental health professionals, and individuals who suffer from mental illness, as well as those who want to maintain good mental health.

It is a well known fact that exercise can improve physical health. Research also suggests that exercise is beneficial for mental health. New research reveals a clear link between well-being and immersion in nature. The session will explore examples of agencies from around the country that are doing their part to create better mental health in their communities.

Session Length: 1.25 Hours

Credit: 0.1

NRPA Education online learning content is accessible for 180 days from the date of your registration.  The learning content is available for registration for three years from the date of origination.

April Chambers

Vice President, National Alliance for Mental Illness

April Chambers is the First Vice President and Treasurer on the Board of Directors for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). She is also a certified instructor for one of NAMI’s programs called Ending the Silence. This is a course for high school and college students encouraging them to talk about their thoughts and struggles. She has spoken in Washington DC during the NAMI National Convention, focusing on mental health parity (saving it) and funding for more services, including access to care for those who don’t have insurance or other means. She says of her work: "I have family with mental health diseases and I use lived experiences to help others know the challenges and how to navigate through them within the family as well as practitioners and hospitals."

April teaches CIT (Crisis Intervention Team training) for law enforcement. This course gives them the skills to assess and manage individuals who may be suffering from a mental illness. 

April also has over 25 years of Marketing strategy and technology experience within the financial services, retail, construction and entertainments industries. She is currently serving as the Senior Manager for Marketing Technology at Universal Orlando Resort.

Barbara Heller

Senior Consultant, BerryDunn

Barbara Heller is a Senior Consultant/Practice Lead for Parks and Recreation with BerryDunn, starting in June 2019.  Previously she was President of Heller and Heller Consulting, LLC, a management consulting firm specializing in state and local government, primarily in the parks and recreation industry.  Her areas of specialty include: strategic planning, master planning, service quality assessments, operational/organizational reviews, leadership development, facilitation of public input processes, and staff training with clients all over the United States. 

She has additional consulting experience with Sasaki Associates and PROS Consulting and has been performing client focused consulting engagements for 13 years. 

Previous to consulting experience, Barbara spent over 30 years working at the local government level with a variety of park systems.   She was the Executive Director of the Naperville Park District and Elk Grove, Park District, both in Illinois. Heller has held other positions with municipal government organizations in Arlington, TX, Montgomery County, MD and Prince William County, VA.  

Her education background includes a master’s degree in public administration from the American University in Washington, D.C. and a bachelor’s degree from the Pennsylvania State University.  

She has presented at state and national conferences for the last 25 years.

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