Helping People Enjoy Life
Danielle Potter was 15 when she got her first summer job working concessions at the Rockford Park District’s Sportscore One. Little did she know at the time the park district would become her home away from home for years to come.
When she became an education major at Rockford University, Potter considered a career as a physical education teacher, though she was also recruited to become a police officer. Ultimately, her heart was more into helping people enjoy life through recreation.
“I decided I didn’t want to be in a classroom or a gym; I wanted to do more than that,” she says. “A position opened up with the park district that allowed me to be more accessible to the community.”
In 2002, Potter joined the park district full-time as a recreation specialist. She climbed the ranks and today is the district’s superintendent of operations.
In her role, Potter oversees 35 full-time and 300 seasonal employees, in addition to many of the park district’s major programs and facilities, including aquatics, playgrounds, summer camps, after-school programs, youth sports and Mercyhealth Sportscore One and Two.
One of her biggest tasks is managing the UW Health Sports Factory in downtown Rockford. Opened seven years ago, the facility was a game-changer for the city, providing an economic boost through tourism. Not only does the Sports Factory draw national sports tournaments to town on weekends, but it’s also home to many local athletic camps, tournaments and practices.
“So much has changed in recreational programming,” says Potter. “We’re not the experts in everything, so that’s why our community partnerships are so important. We do a great job working with the YMCA, Rockford Public Schools, the Boys & Girls Clubs, the City of Rockford and so many others to meet the needs of the community.”
When she’s not working, Potter is never away from her love of sports. A standout high school basketball player, Potter now has four children who also excel in sports.
“If I didn’t have sports in my life, I don’t know what I’d do,” she says. “Sports brings out so many great qualities in a person such as character, leadership and the importance of being a good teammate.”
So, too, does that first job. Potter has come a long way since those days of grilling hot dogs and popping popcorn during softball and soccer tournaments.
“Who would have thought I’d still be here 30 years later, running operations?” she says. “I grew up in this community, and my kids grew up in park district programming. We are a safe place for kids, and I think about that every day.”