The Meaning of Relationship Building in the Context of the Community Center and its Implications


  • Craig Michael Colistra
  • Dart Schmalz
  • Troy Glover



Community center, health and well-being, phenomenology, relationship building, social capital


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Public park and recreation settings are important environments for health promotion and public park and recreation organizations are increasingly recognized for contributing positively to community health and disease prevention. Researchers typically focus on the influence of the built environment on health and less on the social environment, which have crucial implications for health and well-being. Exploring parks and recreation settings as social environments in which individuals engage in leisure jointly with others can assist managers in better understanding individual leisure behaviors and health outcomes. Community centers represent meaningful spaces that facilitate social interaction through their diversity of programming and services. The social relationships that arise from these interactions in leisure settings can act as a source of health and well-being for users. 

The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the social relationships at a county-owned community center in the southeastern United States, and their implications for health and well-being. This study demonstrated a valuable role of community centers beyond opportunities for physical activity. Through opportunities for bonding, bridging, and linking social capital that the community center afforded through their programs and services, users had access to emotional support, as well as information and resources that was not available to them in other domains of their life. 

It is important for practitioners to consider the valuable contribution that relationship building can have to a user’s health and well-being when designing, marketing, and evaluating programs and events. A substantial contribution to the community center user’s health and well-being was access to information, resources, and services which were a result of partnerships and collaborations that the community center had with local organizations and institutions. It would be advantageous for community centers to collaborate with agencies that can assist visitors in other domains of life (e.g., housing, employment, family) that can indirectly impact the welfare of users. This is especially relevant for community centers that serve disadvantaged populations (i.e., low income, elderly) that may not have the knowledge or ability to access these types of services themselves. However, as the findings indicate, it is also important to recognize that collaborations and partnerships can potentially have negative consequences for users. Although collaborations are imperative to providing services, users can be skeptical to outside organizations and have a negative impact on participation. 

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