New Bridgton Rec Director — ‘Raring to go’

GARY COLLELO is Bridgton's new recreation director. WHAT: Meet & Greet WHO: New Bridgton Recreation Director Gary Colello WHEN: Wednesday, Sept. 18, 3 to 5:30 p.m. WHERE: Bridgton Community Center

GARY COLLELO is Bridgton's new recreation director.
WHAT: Meet & Greet
WHO: New Bridgton Recreation Director Gary Colello
WHEN: Wednesday, Sept. 18, 3 to 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Bridgton Community Center

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Gary Colello thinks he knows what gave him the edge in being chosen over 35 other applicants as Bridgton’s new Recreation Director.

It was his emphasis on the importance of communication.

That, and his willingness to dive in and reorganize a department sorely in need of some competent leadership.

In his first six weeks on the job, Colello has worked hard to organize records in his office and establish a clear line of communication with the public via the Bridgton Recreation Facebook page.

He’s spent time beefing up the Facebook page, meeting as many recreation supporters in town as he can, and hopes to meet many more during a special Meet & Greet next Wednesday, Sept. 18, from 3 to 5:30 p.m. at the Bridgton Community Center. The family event, with games and snacks, will be the community’s chance to bring their ideas, questions and concerns to Colello.

He wants to hear it all, the good and the bad. His goal, above all else, over the next 12 months is to make sure that the programs that have been in existence for years are running smoothly.

“I want to make sure that everybody’s happy with what they have now. This way, they’ll be more excited for what might come next,” Colello said in a Monday interview in his office.

Colello’s biggest concern right now is the lack of volunteers to help run programs.

“The volunteer numbers are very low right now. And I don’t have any record of who helped out in previous years.” Coaches and referees are needed for the soccer program, and he only has one volunteer signed up so far to help out with the annual Halloween Party at the Town Hall on Oct. 31.

So he’s hoping the community will support him, in this, his first job as a recreation director.

Colello, who holds a Master’s of Education, has experience as a youth development coordinator, summer camp director and coach of varsity football and track. A graduate of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, he interned there during college, helping with sports programs. His most recent work was as a sports trainer, working with kids on physical training and conditioning.

But that last job, he said, “Honestly, it didn’t pay the bills.” With his girlfriend, Jen Maynard, her daughter Haley and their seven-month old son Miles, Colello has moved to a condo on Shawnee Peak from their former home in Laconia, N.H.

“It was a very tough decision,” Colello said, once he’d been offered the job in Bridgton. “We knew it was a better life for us,” and the chance to have health insurance for themselves and their children figured large in their decision.

“When I came in, a lot of people had expressed that the communication was not there for some reason with the recreation department,” said Colello. “That’s something I have diligently worked on every single day, any time somebody e-mails me, I try to get back to them the same day, if not, first thing the next morning.”

He sees the Facebook page as being a powerful tool for keeping the community informed. “Ever since I started, I pushed really hard with the Facebook page, because that’s where I’m going to get all of the information out to people, mostly. It’s going to make my job a lot easier, because I can get cancellations up there, and if even half the people see it, that’s more people than if I had to call them all. People seem to be much happier with that.”

Colello so far has started up a Pre-K Soccer Program, as one way to build a program that has seen significant decline in participation in recent years. Currently there are only 17 boys participating in soccer, and just two girls.

“What I tell people is that if the child can handle the maturity level of practicing for 45 minutes, then they can participate. The fine motor skills are not as needed as with other sports, so it’s a good way to get kids involved earlier. We’ll have to wait a couple years to see if it works, but hopefully three years down the road those kids will be in second and third grade and we’ll have better numbers.”

He is also hoping to increase fitness activities for all ages, and to that end has been working with Vicky Toole to begin a Zumba Gold class at the Bridgton Community Center. He is working with Bridgton Selectmen to start a “Let’s Move!” federal initiative begun in 2010 in the wake of a task force report on childhood obesity.

“I would like to ramp up the fitness that’s around here,” he said. “I come from a community where there’s lots more things to do as far as fitness centers. I’d like to offer fitness classes myself,” he added.

But he is clear in his mind that he cannot run all the programs himself, “because if I do, then the department will end up collapsing under itself” for lack of oversight and organization. Then too, he added, “I have a young family that wants and needs my presence, and I want to make sure that work is not my life.”

He has begun soliciting businesses for sponsorships of a snack table at soccer games, and is working on a scholarship program that will enlist parent participation in return for waivers of their children’s registration fees.

“We want to make sure that every child can participate, and I’ll never turn away a kid because they can’t afford it. But if we’re giving out too many scholarships, that pulls from the budget,” Collelo said.

Whether its helping in summer to clean the beach, or helping him now with the much-needed task of organizing recreation equipment at Town Hall, the scholarship program can help get him the support he needs to keep programs running smoothly.

“I want to make sure people understand that it’s not an entitlement program,” Collelo said. “There is some resistance, but I don’t know if people realize this or not, but if you volunteer to coach or referee, your child gets to play at no charge.”

Colello knows he’s got a lot to learn, but he’s confident he’ll weather any difficulties.

“So far, so good. I’m really enjoying it,” he said.

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