Retiring Geneva parks director recalls joy of enhancing lives through recreation
Sheavoun Lambillotte: 'Not only was it a lot of fun, it was very rewarding and the number of lives you touch is immeasurable'
Little by little, day by day this month, Sheavoun Lambillotte is packing up 23 years' worth of her life at the Geneva Park District.
Lambillotte was recreation supervisor for 10 years and the last 13 as the park district's executive director. Her last day of work is Dec. 31. And as she is retiring, she will pass the leadership baton to Nicole Vickers, currently the district's recreation supervisor.
"I could not have picked a better profession to be in," Lambillotte said. "I happened upon it when I was in college. And I'm so glad that I did, because that gets me to the second part: Not only was it a lot of fun, it was very rewarding and the number of lives you touch is immeasurable."
To workaholics, recreation might seem like a last-on-the-list of importance.
But Lambillotte said a better understanding of recreation has shown how essential it is to a healthy life.
"The benefits that have become more and more relevant and more talked about is how important being in the outdoors and recreating ... have come to light," Lambillotte said. "Even more not physical but mental. Major studies have been done about being outside and the deprivation and depression caused by people who don't spend any time in nature or recreating."
Lambillotte started in college as a business major. Then she switched to therapeutic recreation and then to commercial recreation. She did an internship at South Seas Plantation, Captiva Island in Florida before moving on to public recreation.
And the rest is history.
Lambillotte said she tries to share that importance with all the young camp counselors and lifeguards when they come on board.
"It's their chance at a first job and they have a major impact on a child's life that they probably don't realize," she said.
Major projects under her watch
While she loved being the recreation superintendent, Lambillotte said she also loved coordinating the park district's vision as its executive director.
"You gather information from the community through community surveys and the park district board and other communication avenues for a strategic plan to guide the future of the district," Lambillotte said.
She lead several projects and offerings, but one she spearheaded that she said had the most impact on the community was collaborating with Geneva District 304 on a before- and after-school program.
"Now we provide before and after school care for over 400 students a year who did not have that opportunity before I got here," Lambillotte said. "That is my biggest accomplishment. It did not just impact recreation for people, it impacted many aspects of life."
It was her answer to the two-parent working households that were no longer the exception.
"Especially as a working parent with two kids in before and after school," Lambillotte said of her own situation. "I am most proud of bringing that to Geneva. It had the most profound impact on the community."
Hawks Hollow Nature Playground
She led the creation of Hawks Hollow Nature Playground at Peck Farm Park, the first in Illinois for a nature playground.
It features interactive learning stations that focus on local plants and wildlife as well as a splash pad, net climbers and a wading stream.
Hawks Hollow was named an Illinois Park and Recreation Association Outstanding Facility in 2014.
"Now there's one (a nature playground) in almost every community," Lambillotte said. "It was a collaborative effort, getting a grant from the state and the Geneva Park District Foundation. It was a neat first for me."
Similarly, Lambillotte spearheaded the Community Gardens in a collaboration with the city of Geneva and the Kane County Forest Preserve District.
The Community Gardens at Prairie Green features 131 garden plots that the public can rent and use to grow their own produce.
Another major project of hers was setting up Playhouse 38, a local theater program.
"We did not have a theater program before I got here and it's a welcome addition to our recreational offerings," Lambillotte said.
Nicole Vickers to take the lead
Lambillotte said she is confident in passing the leadership role to Vickers.
And she should know. Lambillotte hired Vickers 18 years ago and mentored her.
"I am confident she can carry it forward as the board has confidence in her abilities to learn and grow into this position," Lambillotte said. "I'm very excited to pass the baton to someone who has a rich history with our district and a passion for recreation."
Vickers said she is looking forward to her new position.
"I'm really excited to take the lead, overseeing the staff and overseeing different projects," Vickers said. "I'm really excited to continue on the path of excellence that has already been set up by the predecessors."
Her first big project will be the renovation of Mill Creek Community Park which includes replacement of the aging playground equipment.
"I'm actually working on a grant for that," Vickers said. "It will include a universal playground designed with enhancements to assist people with all abilities to utilize the playground."
The expansion will include an area for pickleball, which is a popular game that combines elements of tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong.
As for Lambillotte, she has no real plan for the next phase of her life.
"I'm standing in front of a blank canvas with a fruity drink in my hand," Lambillotte said. "Charlie (her husband) and I are going to do some exploring and when that's done, I'll settle down and think about what I might want to do next. I do not have solid plans for working after I retire, but I do plan on exploring my options."
And while she packs the last of her boxes, the leaving is admittedly bittersweet.
Lambillotte said she couldn't think of a better community to live out her career than in Geneva.
"The people in the park district have been amazing," Lambillotte said. "They are thoroughly engaged and they love the community."