It’s a damp, windy, 45-degree spring morning in Westlake Park. Bundled up against the weather, Parks Ambassador Ryan Sparks considers the state of the season.
“It would be nice not to wear a hat and triple layers every day,” he says.
Sparks started with DSA in February 2018, following a decade in the Army as, he describes, a “nuclear/chemical/biological specialist.” He often worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on first responder scenarios and crisis management.
After the Army, Sparks had a short stint at an insurance company. That particular office role just wasn’t a good fit. He wanted more community involvement and personal interaction. The parks ambassador position with DSA/MID jumped out during his job search.
“I like working with people,” Sparks says. “This job is about more than the bottom line, and it’s different every day.”
The variety of activities keeps him engaged and on his toes.
“You don’t get complacent,” he adds.
Sparks’ day begins at 8 a.m. with a count of people in the park (a task he’ll repeat each hour) and a walk-through to straighten chairs and tables.
Game setup is next. Sparks stacks a tower of colorful Jenga blocks and assembles Connect6, an oversized take on tic-tac-toe. The latter game blows off the table almost immediately, but Sparks patiently puts it back together. Giant chess and Cornhole have fabric components, so they’ll stay inside today to prevent mold.
Sparks highlights how simple activities have a big impact on park life.
“The games are a hit with school groups and vacationing families. It might just be a Jenga set or Foursquare, but it’s new and fun for them.”
Sparks knows families appreciate the space and what it offers.
“We want everybody to use the park and feel welcome. We make it inviting and safe to bring the whole family in.”
If he didn’t work in the park, Sparks says downtown would still be a destination. In fact, he recently traveled from his Tacoma home on his day off to window shop, relax in a cafe and people watch.
Sparks is good with people. He says the Army gave him perspective, patience and empathy. He knows how not to get worked up, and how to interact with many different personalities.
With an eye on the future, Sparks wants to capitalize on his event and project-planning skills to further his post-service career. In the meantime, he’s looking forward to warm weather.