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What is the GEARS story? An interview with Barry Acker

Nov 18th, 2014 | By | Category: Features, Lead Article

GEARS, Greater Elizabethtown Area Recreation Services, is one of those community institutions that most of us take for granted.  It naturally seems to be a part of the community and always seems to be there; like roads, schools, and grocery stores.  The natural feeling of GEARS is one indicator that it is a model for a cooperative community institution and community service agency.  A community service like GEARS just doesn’t happen.  It requires a great deal of planning, foresight, and vigilance.

To get a better understanding of GEARS as an institution, EJ caught up with Barry Acker, the Executive Director of GEARS since its inception.  We asked Barry about the history of GEARS and its role and status as an institutional part of the community.

Barry is a 1971 graduate of Pequea Valley High School and a 1975 graduate of Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia.  He earned a B.S. degree in Health and Physical Education at Elkins.  He was hired as the Elizabethtown Area Recreation Commission (EARC) Program Coordinator in 1976 and became the Director a few years later.  He has been the Executive Director of GEARS since its inception in 2000. Barry is also an assistant coach for the Elizabethtown College men’s basketball team, a position he has held since 1996.  The interview with Barry is included below.

 EJ:  When did GEARS first begin?  When did the current structure of GEARS begin? Is GEARS a descendent of earlier institutions and programs?

BA: GEARS began in 2000 with the merger of the Elizabethtown Area Recreation Commission (EARC), which was originally founded in 1975, and the Elizabethtown Area Community Services Authority (EACSA), which was founded in 1985, to own, operate and maintain the Elizabethtown Community Center.  GEARS Kids Center, Elizabethtown Area Senior Center, GEARS Recreation and GEARS Community Center all operate under the auspice of the GEARS organization.

EJ: What is the relationship between GEARS and the Senior Center?

BA: GEARS has a contract with the Lancaster County Office of Aging to provide senior activities in the Greater Elizabethtown Area at the GEARS Community Center.

EJ: GEARS is well-integrated institutionally into the Elizabethtown community. Could you briefly explain the relationship between GEARS and other Etown institutions, like the borough council and the Elizabethtown Area School District (EASD)?

BA: From their inception, EARC, EACSA and ultimately GEARS were all created as a regionalized cooperative relationship among Conoy Township, EASD, Elizabethtown Borough, Mount Joy Township and West Donegal Township as a cost effective approach to provide a multitude of social services (seniors, recreation, child care, etc.).

EJ: Such a highly developed network is the ideal model for developing a community organization like GEARS. Was this planned from the start or did it develop that way over time?

BA: It was planned from the beginning.  Representatives from Elizabethtown Area School District, Elizabethtown Borough, Mount Joy Township, West Donegal Township, and Conoy Township met for almost one year to create the structure of GEARS and the manner in which each municipality would support it.

EJ: How is GEARS funded?

BA: GEARS has a cooperative agreement among all involved parties that includes municipal contributions and capital reserve monies, child care tuition fees, recreation program fees, community support and sponsorships.

EJ: What is the governance structure of GEARS? (Do collaborating organizations have ex-officio representation?)

BA: Elizabethtown Area School District, Elizabethtown Borough, West Donegal Township and Mount Joy Township each have three representatives who serve on the GEARS Board of Directors. The Board meets on a monthly basis to approve and recommend policy and procedure. Conoy Township opted to withdraw from GEARS in 2010.  Finally, Elizabethtown Area Community Services Authority continues to meet annually to approve all action and procedures by GEARS as approved and authorized through a Lease Agreement.

EJ: The range of programs and activities is quite extensive and impressive.  Who decides what to offer and how do you make GEARS responsive to community needs and preferences?

BA: Programmers in the recreation department plan the various activities and are continually requesting community input.  GEARS is always looking for new classes, instructors, and program ideas.  Senior Center staff considers and develops senior activities and child care administrators, for GEARS Kids Center, make all decisions on planning and philosophy for summer child care, preschool, kindergarten and before/after school programs.

EJ: Are there any special populations that GEARS is trying to engage in its activities?  Is there any special class of activities that GEARS is attempting to stimulate interest among the local population?

BA: I believe we need to make all populations a priority, but GEARS continues to need public input to improve our program diversity.  Specifically, special needs and baby boomers continue to be an area of focus.

EJ: Thank You.

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