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09/06/2023 11:00 AM

Rich Annino: A Program for Everyone

Rich Annino has been at the helm of Westbrook’s Parks and Recreation Department for over 20 years. Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News

For over 20 years, the person leading Westbrook’s Parks and Recreation Department has been Parks and Recreation Director Rich Annino.

“Basically, I provide the programming for our town and the resources needed for the different programs we have,” Rich says.

Rich adds he developed an early interest in working with Parks and Recreation.

“Growing up in Middletown through high school and college, I worked for the parks and recreation program. The person who mentored me was basically the godfather of recreation in Middletown,” Rich says.

When the average person hears the phrase “parks and recreation,” if they’re not picturing Leslie Knope, they’re probably picturing Little League fields and soccer tournaments. But to keep people engaged and active in a town like Westbrook, Rich says he works hard to offer programs that cover a wide variety of interests. In addition to standard activities, the Westbrook department offers resources such as before- and after-school programming, pickleball lessons in addition to league play and tournaments, Red Cross certification courses, boating classes, theater programs, and concert series on the green.

“The people here come ask us for things, and we try and take care of their needs,” Rich says.

Even with the varied offerings the town has, Rich is optimistic that down the line, the department may be able to offer even more.

“I’m hopeful that soon we’ll have a community center that can house the Parks and Recreation Department. We can have more programs and meet more needs, I think,” Rich says.

The idea of bringing a community center to Westbrook is one that has been discussed on and off for over a decade, though it has gained steam again in recent years. In 2021, an online survey for Westbrook residents designed to gauge interest in a town community center received more than 280 responses in less than 24 hours of being live. In total, 714 people filled out the survey, with a majority of people in favor of the town building one.

Earlier this year, the town formed an ad hoc committee charged with studying the issue and recommending possible locations. Rich says he has been monitoring the idea closely and encouraged those interested to visit the town website to learn more about the project.

“I’ve been working on getting a community center here a long time,” Rich says.

Asked for his favorite part of his job, Rich says it’s running the summer camps.

“We have multiple sports, theater, day camps, you name it. It’s our busiest time of the season,” Rich says.

Of course, the busy season also brings some challenges.

“Managing and maintaining the town beach is hard,” Rich concedes. He points to things like lifeguard shortages and the unpredictability of Mother Nature as stressful components of the task.

Even before Rich worked for the town, members of the Westbrook community still got to enjoy the fruits of his labor. For 20 years, Rich was the youth development director at the Valley Shore YMCA in Westbrook.

“I did a lot of the same stuff I do for the towns now, but I try and do some different things, so I don’t step on any toes over there. We try and do some different things,” Rich explains.

Even residents who aren’t active in the programming offered by the town may be familiar with Rich since he’s lived in town since 1976.

“My parents used to have a cottage on Seaside Avenue, and we spent summers down here,” he recalls.

In what’s no surprise for a parks and recreation director, in his spare time, Rich can be found keeping active.

“My wife and I are avid walkers. I’m also an official with the CIAC refereeing basketball and soccer games for the state high school games, and I like to ride my bike.”

Having lived in Westbrook for so long, Rich doesn’t hesitate when naming his favorite part of the town.

“The people. Everyone here is very nice, and everyone here gets along for the most part. Westbrook is a nice town to live and work in,” Rich says.