St. Petersburg’s leisure services administrator said talks regarding a departmental name change with Mayor Ken Welch began in earnest following Hurricane Ian.
It was late September 2022, and Mike Jefferies and about 150 members of his parks & recreation team were clearing debris from city streets so first responders could safely pass. As their administrative leader, Jefferis wore a polo shirt emblazoned with the leisure services moniker.
“He (Welch) goes, ‘Jefferis – this is not leisure services. You’re doing so much more,’” Jefferis relayed. “So that really kind of started that dialogue.”
Effective June 5, the leisure services administration will be known as community enrichment services. A memo from Welch to city council members explains that the rebranding will “more accurately reflect the services they provide and better align them with our Pillars for Progress.”
Two other departments will also need new shirts and letterhead.
The community and neighborhood affairs administration overseen by Amy Foster will change to the housing and neighborhood services administration. Susan Ajoc’s community services department will soon be the neighborhood relations department.
“It’s one of those things where the mayor’s got a limited amount of time in office, and he wants to accomplish as much as he can,” Jefferis said. “He wants to move the needle as far as he can while he is here.”
The leisure services administration oversees the parks and recreation department. Jefferis called it a dated term that does not reflect the scope of provided services.
Welch agreed. After assuming office, he told Jefferis that “it sounds so 1970s. You guys are killing out here in the community.”
Jefferis said the community enrichment moniker embodies the expanding mission. He now manages the city’s parks, recreational facilities and activities, golf courses, libraries and education and youth opportunities.
He began overseeing that initiative about eight months ago and is searching for someone to assume its director-level position. Jefferis explained they would collaborate with counterparts from Pinellas County Schools, area colleges and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
The goal is to create a “collective impact” by helping people navigate various education and youth resources that many don’t realize exist. Jefferis and the new director will also seize opportunities to boost community programs.
“It doesn’t necessarily need to be run by the city of St. Pete,” he added. “It’s not our desire to be everything to everyone. But if we get grant dollars or are able to sponsor and stand it up, support it and move it forward, then we have that as well.”
Jefferis said what is now community enrichment is one of the city’s most expansive administrations, boasting nearly 1,000 employees during the summer. Over 2,000 elementary students and 1,500 teens participate in its core programs.
In addition, he said thousands more youth and adults engage in various initiatives provided by departments underneath the new community enrichment moniker. One of the most successful is the St. Petersburg Youth Farm.
Carla Bristol, the farm’s collaboration manager, often says that she grows nutritious food and future community leaders simultaneously. Jefferis and the parks and recreation department began aiding that mission last fall, and Bristol previously noted the new partnership immediately bore fruit.
The Barbershop Book Club is another grassroots effort that Jefferis looks forward to supporting. He expressed his excitement for a new director of education and youth opportunities to help bolster those programs.
“I desire to look back … and say, ‘Hey, we sincerely and genuinely moved the needle in St. Pete with this hire,” Jefferis said. “We help them navigate the system, and we help them work with other organizations to combine resources to really continue improving the quality of life for our children.”
Parks and recreation also oversees the Healthy St. Pete initiative. The program’s mission is to improve health outcomes and reduce inequities, said Jefferis. “It really is making a difference in the community.”
Then there are disaster preparation and cleanup efforts.
The city provided leisure services with its own emergency operations subcenter (EOSC). While Jefferis overnighted at the city’s EOC with other officials during Ian, several staffers slept at the sub-center in order to hit the streets as soon as possible.
Once they ensure safe passage for first responders, parks and recreation members – and the city’s sanitation and stormwater departments – begin clearing streets and residences. Jefferis previously noted that despite working before, during and after the storm, 60 of his employees volunteered to come in that weekend.
“It’s not very leisurely,” he said with a laugh. “I think it’s exciting to have a title that indicates what we really stand for. Community enrichment – that’s what we are.”