Pickard takes reins of Chautauqua’s rec programs

SAALIK KHAN | Staff Photographer
Meg Pickard, who previously worked for the Jamestown YMCA for 21 years, joined Chautauqua Institution this winter as the new director of recreation services.

Meg Pickard just wants to make it through the season.

It’s a phrase she repeats often, but it’s not to be taken for a careless approach to her new position as the director of recreation services and fitness center manager. It’s just that she has a lot on her plate.

From the golf course off Chautauqua Institution’s main grounds to the sailing center on Chautauqua Lake’s shore, Pickard is the hand that holds the umbrella of recreational programs the Institution offers.

Pickard beams a wide smile and a cheerful laugh when she talks about the continual, seemingly overwhelming, list of tasks she needs to accomplish before and during the season. It’s a happy-go-lucky tic for someone who is taking her role one step at a time.

The week before the season officially starts, referred to as “Week Zero,” is the hectic stream of preparation before people storm the grounds, but the week has stretched to several months since Pickard took the position in January.

Prior to filling the role, Pickard worked at the YMCA in Jamestown for 21 years. For the past seven years, she was a full-time wellness director at the Y and was heavily influenced by her desire to help people adopt healthy lifestyles.

Pickard grew up in Chautauqua County and spent her summers on the grounds, taking classes in dance (a hobby, she said, that she has grown out of) and absorbed in the recreation culture at the Chautauqua Institution.

She dreamt about the likes of Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux when she danced as a child — now, both are involved in two different directorial roles at the Chautauqua School of Dance. Pickard has seen changes in the way recreation has evolved on the grounds and wants to continue that trend at a steady pace.

“I’m trying to get used to what’s here because there’s nothing worst than people coming in and making change for the sake of making change,” Pickard said. “If something’s not broken, I’m not going to fix it. But if I do see things that we could adapt or tweak or make all-out changes to things that have been here a long time that is no longer relevant or being made use of, or maybe we change how it’s offered.”

Pickard said there is a convergence of two polarizing age groups at Chautauqua — millennials and baby boomers — and hopes to accommodate not only those two specifically, but everyone in between.

Since 1992, Pickard has worked extensively with an older adult population and even drafted a report last fall at a leadership symposium that delved into fall prevention and how recreational activity can soften the impact of such occurrences.

“The older generation wants to stay focused,” Pickard said. “They have concerns about falls and safety. They’re more concerned about quality of life, rather than quantity of life. They’re taking a slower pace in general.”

Turner Community Center partners with an outside physical therapy agency twice a week to provide services personal trainers at Chautauqua could otherwise not, coaching those with mobility and health issues.    

This program has existed for some time, but Pickard said even veteran Chautauquans are still finding out programs that are offered within recreation services.

“I think a lot of people come to Chautauqua and they have no idea the broad array of what is available to them,” Pickard said. “Even those people who have been coming for years, I’m hearing them say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know we had Sports Club. I didn’t know we could rent a kayak. I didn’t know we could do lawn bowling.’ And like I said, I came here 40 years ago — I didn’t know any of those things existed.”

The introduction of pickleball — a tennis-pingpong hybrid that is played on the tennis center courts — as well as foot golf, which will bring soccer fundamentals to the Chautauqua Golf Club on July 19, are just a few of the new programs recreation services will be offering this summer. And if those don’t suit the recreational wants of Chautauqua, Pickard wants to know.

“I want feedback from people,” Pickard said. “I want people to feel free to email or contact me by phone, or in person. I’d love to sit down if time permits. People who come here on a regular basis — what do they see? What would they like to have added to recreation?”

From social activities like shuffleboard, mah jongg and lawn bowling, to more physically demanding activities like softball and sailing, Pickard invites everyone to be active. 

“Anyone that wants to join in, should join in,” Pickard said. “This is your opportunity to play something, maybe something you didn’t learn as a child that you always wanted to.”