Chris Silver has spent a lifetime preparing for the job of Manchester’s Director of Leisure, Family, and Recreation. Chris grew up on the Westside of Manchester with his parents and seven siblings in one side of a two-family house. The Silver family side of the house consisted of a large kitchen and small living room on the first floor, three small bedrooms on the second floor and two small unheated bedrooms on the third floor.
Chris was the youngest of the eight children and when he outgrew sleeping in a crib he moved to the floor of his parent’s bedroom. Rolling under his parent’s bed on occasion scared him and woke his parents. Since Chris liked the idea of camping out and had a nice new frog sleeping bag to sleep in he didn’t mind moving from the floor of his parent’s bedroom to the floor of the hallway which felt like his own little private space. He never resented the lack of a bedroom and when he was ten Chris moved to a bedroom of his own.
Carl Silver, Chris’ father worked second shift (12-9) as the Assistant Director of Recreation when Chris was growing up. His mother worked third shift as a nurse at Manchester Manor and tried to get some sleep during the day. The wide open spaces of parks, gyms, and pools were appealing to someone growing up in a small home crowded with ten people, nine of whom were trying their best to keep quiet during the daytime. So Chris spent lots of time at the nearby Westside Recreation Center until it was torn down in 1977 and then at Mahoney Rec which was built and attached to the Washington School in 1979. Chris and most of his siblings also attended Washington School.
Chris, a self-described rec rat, has wonderful memories of the summer recreation programs at Washington in the seventies when families tended to be large and everyone was outside playing. There were so many children to play with on your own street that children living a few blocks away were strangers. Chris remembers fondly the playground leaders who were role models for him growing up, with the playground open from nine to twelve, a one hour break for lunch and then another session from one to four. Street hockey, wiffleball, and kickball were usually played in the cooler morning hours. Sometimes the children from one playground would ride their bikes to another playground and challenge them to a game. Afternoons were spent doing arts and crafts, jumping double dutch, playing marbles, and tetherball, and other quieter games. The two adults were like the parents that all the kids needed to guide them and contribute to a feeling of emotional and physical safety.
During the winter Chris continued his “rec rat” life with his father. Chris would come home from school and go right out to do his paper route. Then, have dinner with his father during his father’s lunch break from work at 5. His father then took him to one of the rec centers for swimming lessons or a basketball game or if nothing was scheduled Chris would just drive around with his father to each of the centers as his father checked in on the activities. During high school, Chris started working part-time for the recreation department.
Four of the eight Silver siblings went into the military after high school. Since his father had been in the military and there was little money for college his parents pushed for high school graduation followed by service in the military rather than college. Chris was the first to go to college. He started at MCC and then transferred to Bryant College as an Accounting major. A graduation requirement at Bryant was a full-time internship for one semester. Chris completed his internship in the tax department at Connecticut Bank and Trust in Hartford and was miserable. Meanwhile, during his time at MCC and Bryant, he continued working for the recreation department on the weekends.
During his unpleasant internship, Chris recognized that accounting was not his dream job and he needed to make a change. He discovered that the University of Colorado had a Community and Commercial Recreation Major in their School of Business. So, Chris transferred to Colorado. However, once there he realized that the courses he needed to graduate were full and he returned home to finish his degree at UConn’s School of Education. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Parks and Recreation Management and then went on to get a Master’s Degree from Southern CT.
After college Chris took the position of Activities Director at Manchester High School. He worked at the high school for two years then became a rec supervisor in 1996. During this time he finished at grad school in 2000 and started teaching at SCSU. He taught part-time for 10 years while working full time at the recreation department. He eventually shortened his teaching commute by moving to teach at MCC part-time. He expressed a great appreciation for the dedication of public school teachers after his experiences teaching part-time at Southern and MCC. He doesn’t know how public school teachers manage to prepare for a full load of classes and find time for their own life.
Carl Silver eventually moved up to the director role and after he retired Chris became Assistant Director. But, in 2008 Manchester brought in a consultant to develop a Children, Youth, and Family Master Plan for the town. Chris was assigned to that project for a year. As a result of the plan, the city created a new Department of Neighborhoods and Families. Chris was tapped to be the director of the new department and left the recreation department from 2009-2015.
In 2015, Chris became Director of Leisure, Family, and Recreation when the departments were merged. Today Chris oversees neighborhoods and families, parks and rec, youth services and Work_Space. Bringing recreation, youth services, and neighborhood events together under one director creates a more impactful department with tremendous opportunities for collaboration. Although Chris has the final say on major decisions, the departments meet weekly and then the heads of each department also meet weekly with Chris to coordinate upcoming events and activities.
Core Values Guiding Decisions
Manchester has been fortunate in that the Cheneys built schools and recreation centers with workers in mind. Many of the more populated areas of town: West Side, East Side, Robertson have recreation or community centers. This way people living in close quarters have nearby green spaces or gyms to get out and run and move. Also, children have adult role models within walking distance of their homes. Chris believes it is best to have Centers located in the core of the community.
Manchester recreation and community centers are located at the Bennett Leisure Center on School St, Center Springs Park on Lodge Dr, the Community Y on North Main, Mahoney Rec on Cedar St, Nathan Hale Activity Center on Spruce St, East Side Neighborhood Resource Center on Spruce St, Northwest Park on Tolland Turnpike, Nike Site on Garden Grove and the Youth Services Bureau on Linden St.
Chris believes that since his childhood our entire culture has changed in how we interact with each other, how we play with each other how we socialize. In the seventies, playground leader accountability for children didn’t exist. The recreation department did not run camps, there were only supervised playgrounds where children were free to come and go as they pleased. No one took attendance.
In 1985, the first two camps in town were started along with the supervised playgrounds. Also, the mid-eighties saw the beginning of before and after-school programs for children. Accountability for care shifted as more mothers went back to work and there were more single-parent homes. This shift in responsibility of care for children created a need for more day camps and a corresponding decrease in the numbers of children attending supervised playgrounds. Also, there were issues of equity as families who could afford it were sending their children to camp but some working parents were leaving children at playgrounds all day. The supervised playground model didn’t work, so Manchester became an all-camp system with a scholarship program.
The area downtown known as Work_Space is another project of the department. It is a collaborative workspace, co-working space and conference center. The space was developed in a way that wasn’t typical of a government building. Chris values the hiring of creative talent to market the programs and develop spaces. The goal is to increase participation but also to be fair and inclusive when developing programs. It is imperative to find ways to get information to people and also to make sure the programs provided represent what the community is and looks like and to engage people. When going into a community if one sees a high quality visual it says something to the observer about the care of the people working in the community. But while looking good is important it is more important to perform well too. There is an economic value of investing in, developing, programming, and marketing green spaces, recreation centers, and community centers. People will be excited to come to town to play and live and work.