Manchester citizens know that when they need reliable help to apply for a grant or when they’re looking to get something done in the parks, they’re not gambling their time when they turn to Bonnie Gamble. Because of her work in the community, Manchester’s Parks and Recreation Director was chosen as the Manchester Times - Manchester Rotary Club Citizen of the Year for 2018.
Gamble began her career in Parks and Recreation in 1994 has a part-time programmer. She took over the director’s position in 1996 and held it for nine years. She left for a position in the state to become the assistant director for recreation services, before she came back to Manchester 3.5 years later to reclaim her director title.
In her tenure as director, Gamble has been involved in many physical projects, including adding a fourth softball field, building the recreation complex, building the amphitheater in partnership with Manchester’s Rotary, playground in Fred Deadman Park, greenhouse garden, soccer complex, after school program, renovating house on soccer complex for teaching children, dog park, middle school bike club, youth wellness room and writing an average of five or six grants a year and helping numerous others with their own asks.
Her most rewarding project has been the Parks and Recreation Complex.
“Recreation Complex would be the top because I see how it has affected so many people in Manchester and the area,” Gamble said. “It’s not just a place to work out, it’s where we are all neighbors and family together. It really has that. When people come in, that’s one of the compliments they usually pay us. It’s ‘wow, you guys are like family to us.’
“And it’s a welcoming place where everyone, regardless of your income, financial status, can come in and back together, be Manchester,” she added. “I always said it shouldn’t be Walmart where we see everybody and gather. That’s what I envisioned and wanted for the Parks and Recreation Department, to be this spot where the community comes together and we share our fun, we share our families away from the stress of politics and work and all of that.”
The complex opened in June 2003 and recently celebrated its 15th summer since completion.
“It takes a lot of work and maintenance and resources,” Gamble said. “That’s thanks to the commitment of several Board of Mayor and Aldermen boards to stay committed to excellence in Parks and Recreation and to citizens who want it.”
Her position offers her a unique view into the community, one many people may not see. Her frustration comes from when the frustration of others who don’t see the impact the complex makes on the average person’s life.
“I know they don’t see the woman who’s come in here for exercise class just to be able to have the mental health to take care of her spouse who’s either getting dialysis or cancer treatment and that’s very stressful. Or they’re lonely,” Gamble explained.
“Or we have children who have challenges and this is like a safe place. Or, you know, children who are being brought up in a very transitory household. They stay in a week by week motel…we scholarship them,” she continued.
“What I’m trying to say is that people don’t see the faces, they tend to just look at a budget number and they don’t know the stories, so that can be frustrating because we see the stories. I wish people would hear and see some of the stories that we hear and see every day,” she concluded.
In 2018, Gamble wrote seven grants for Parks and Recreation and assisted with countless others. Parks and Recreation grants included extending the greenway, Commit to Health, another geared toward healthcare, Bonnaroo Works, funds to build a dog park, a community foundation grant, and a grant for the soccer fields.
Without her partners, state agencies and engaged community members, none of this would be possible
“I probably scratch the surface sometimes of the kind of funding that’s available that I might be able to fit some facility or program in there that we do, let alone any other agencies. That’s what takes a lot of time is trying to search out those grants,” she said.
Many members of the community turn to Gamble for advice or help with grant writing as well.
Gamble will help with the framework and narrative writing, but it will be up to the asker to supply her with data and a project.
She helps with the narrative and writing part once they provide the data and the project. Her work in the state department helped her greatly with this, as she knows what grant readers are looking for, such as clear, concise and to the point.
“I used to say ‘stop circling the airport. Land the plane,” she said.
Her expertise draws the eye of many community members.
“I’m more than happy to help,” she added.
‘It’s not an individual’
“It’s not an individual, just Bonnie Gamble,” Gamble said about the work she and her department does.
Without the collaboration of volunteers, nonprofits, local media, the commitment of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and citizens who support the department, none of it would be possible, she said.
“It couldn’t be achieved if we weren’t all marching in the same direction that this is worth it,” she said.
“I do want to thank rotary and the Manchester Times. It is quite an honor when you’re going behind someone after Ray Marcrom, or Vernon Sherrill or Sally Berryman, that is really an honor. That can’t be overstated,” Gamble said in reference to past title holders.
“I just want to thank my staff,” she said. “Nobody is any better than the staff that they have. They make me look good.”