Phyl Newbeck, Contributor
A lot has changed since Nicole Conley was hired by the town of Charlotte in June of 2014 including her title and her hours. Initially, Conley served as recreation coordinator, which was a 20-hour a week job. Now, she is the town’s recreation director for a 30-hour-week position, which also includes overseeing the Charlotte Town Beach.
Conley’s approach to her position is one thing that hasn’t changed over time. Her goal is to get as many people engaged as possible. In furtherance of that goal, she works to improve the popular existing programs while adding new ones. Two of the most popular programs are driver’s education and youth soccer. Both are long-standing offerings with the latter attracting 140 kids each fall. Rounding out the top three, however, is martial arts which is a newer addition and has consistently filled every one of the 25 spots for each of the six sessions.
Conley said that in addition to adding new offerings, Charlotte increased the duration of some existing ones. Driver’s ed is now taught year-round and tennis has jumped from one season to three. Pickleball has also become a vibrant year-round program with introductory lessons, as well as regular games. Other programs like dance, flag football, art classes and guitar lessons were taken off the schedule as participation dropped, but the spring after-school program has expanded from first and second graders to grades K-4.
The onset of COVID may be one of the reasons for the increasing popularity of the Charlotte Town Beach. For years, 400-500 passes were sold but that number has increased almost threefold to 1,200 passes. Conley thinks the VSO concerts at the beach may have also helped make people more aware of the facilities and the new playground, built courtesy of a generous donor, has also increased visitation. “Whenever I go by there, I see it being used,” Conley said. She is pleased that the town partners with other municipalities for babysitting and boater safety courses, as well as adult volleyball and pick-up basketball. On-line registration has made it easier for people to sign up for Recreation Department activities.
Programming was limited during the pandemic, but Conley is proud of the way the department rallied to make sure the community remained engaged during those years. One example was the provision of trick or treat bags for Halloween for kids whose parents didn’t want them going door to door.
One popular event that has yet to return after a COVID hiatus is the annual soccer jamboree. The event ran for almost four decades with 60 teams from towns as far away as Brandon coming to play. The jamboree was free, but concession sales would raise as much as a thousand dollars for the Charlotte Recreation Department scholarship fund. Conley has many happy memories of all the smiling faces at the event and hopes it can be restarted again, possibly as early as this fall.
A native Vermonter, Conley comes from an athletic background. She was the athletic activities planner at Champlain College and served as assistant director of athletics, women’s basketball coach and cross-country coach at Vaughn College in New York City. In addition to her municipal job, she is a certified personal trainer at Fitness Options in South Burlington. There, she works primarily with seniors who are either recovering from injuries or hoping to maintain an active lifestyle.
In her spare time, Conley enjoys being active, running at least once a week and keeping up with her 5-year-old son. Her partner Ricky McCollum is the director of student activities at Champlain Valley Union High, and the couple tries to find space in their busy schedules for shared activities including time at Conley’s family’s camp on Lake Champlain.
After the lifting of pandemic restrictions, Conley said many parents reached out to thank her for the newly available programming. “It was really rewarding to hear them say how happy they were that their kids could take part in sports,” she said. “With so many mental health and other issues for kids, it was nice to hear how important these rec sports are to them.”
Almost nine years into her job, she still enjoys the challenge of the position. “I like the people I work with,” she said. “I enjoy the programs I run, and I don’t get bored with them but when new opportunities arrive, I want to jump on them.”