Helping the Lowcountry Play Along
May 2019 Issue
by Jacie Elizabeth Millen
Photography by Christian Lee
The common stereotypical workplace is known to have a day-to-day routine, “desk- job” feel, as if you’re doing the same things on repeat each day, but Leah Arnold goes to work wondering what element of surprise will be dished up each day. She is the Director of Programs and Operations at the Hilton Head Island Recreation Center, overseeing everything that is not considered “athletic programs.” These programs include aquatic, youth, preschool, and senior programs, as well as all special events.
Leah didn’t start at the top. She moved to Hilton Head 16 years ago after she Googled the words “recreation internships,” and the Hilton Head Rec Center popped up. She was hired for the internship, not knowing this opportunity would mold her life. After graduating from Indiana State University, Leah moved to Hilton Head after accepting a full-time job at the Rec. She has made many huge strides in her career there. Her internship flourished into the youth and preschool director, and her dedication took her up the ladder to her current position. If you were to have a sneak peek into Leah’s schedule, it would be a menagerie of activities and meetings. “Every day is so different; I can be in meetings all day, and the next, I will be playing with our adorable toddlers in our preschool program called Discovery Club,” Leah said. She continued, “My job is fun. I get the best of both worlds. I get to be immersed in the business world and still get to play with the amazing kiddos we have the privilege to take care of each day.”
Throughout the years Leah has made many friends and connections with families; she is loved by all. “She has been more than just a boss. She’s more like a second mother to me, mentoring me through my good times and bad parts of my life. She’s just someone I trust.” said Julia Ruiz, an employee of Leah’s for nine years.
As for my years, Leah has been a woman I have marveled at. From being a camper myself since kindergarten, for eight years of summer camp and after school care, to being an employee for now eight years under Leah, she has been nothing short of a positive influence. She even babysat me when my brother and I were little!
She is a compassionate, strong leader, who isn’t just great with her staff, she also makes sure she builds relationships and connections with the families and members of the Rec. With the help of her co-workers, Leah has been able to budget out over 990 family scholarships, making sure kids in this community have opportunities to be active, happy children. The Rec Center has programs and activities for all ages, but most are geared toward children. Leah and I both agree that the Rec center provides a safe, welcoming, structured environment for children. She works to ensure a stable place where kids can escape from their everyday home lives and just play.
Leah doesn’t just play with the kids but has an active life herself. If she’s not walking the beach with her cute pup, you can catch her working out at the Rec Center’s new gym, or holding down the fort at one of the special events the Rec Center is famous for. These events allow Leah to step out of the office and meet the Beaufort County community. Some events include Wingfest, Burgers and Brew, Oyster Fest and the Turkey Trot, some of the largest and most popular events in the county. With volunteers from University of South Carolina Beaufort, the Children’s Center and many other organizations helping to run the festivals, the proceeds go back into the scholarship fund to provide more opportunities for children, making it a huge cycle of good for all.
One thing that has made her job level up to a faster pace is the multi-million dollar expansion of the Rec Center, which now includes a well-stocked gym, with classrooms for fitness classes, a brand-new teen room filled with interactive games, and so much more. This expansion has been in the process for about 13 years, and she has been there every step of the way. It’s rare these days that someone stays at their fist job out of college for 16 years, and the Rec Center wouldn’t be the same without her long time, consistent commitment.
Leah has an upbeat, playful, and kind spirit for all who come through the Rec doors. “Knowing Leah since I was in second grade has been a blessing. She has been there for me on my journey through the Rec center. I was a camper, a counselor and now my current position, the front desk manager. She, alongside my own mother, has been my inspiration to work so hard to get me where I am today,” said Louis Wright, a Rec Center employee of nine years.
Frank Soule, the Executive Director of The Rec Center simply states, “Leah is a wonderful employee, and we are so lucky to have her.” I think we all can agree that we are lucky to have Ms. Leah.