PRINCETON: It’s a family feel for Team PRD


Pictured are members of the Princeton Recreation Department staff as well as the recreation maintenance staff. Left to right are: Anthony Simone

By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
They come to work every day from their own respective homes.
But when the staff at the Princeton Recreation Department arrives to work each day, there is a family feel that makes working together a pleasure.
“It’s a home away from home,” says Administrative Secretary Stacie Ryan. “You leave your house and you come here and it is like being with your family. Everyone has their personal lives, but I just feel right at home here with everyone.”
The six-person office staff and eight members of the maintenance staff make up what Executive Director Ben Stentz calls Team PRD. He overseas the daily operations of a department that runs like a team. And if it were any particular team it would be the Pittsburgh Pirates of the late 1970s, who played under the ‘We are Family’ moniker.
“The only way that I know how to run this is to try to make it like it is a team,” said Stentz, who began working for the department in 2000 and took over as Executive Director in 2010. “That’s what I know. I look at it like you have to recruit the right pieces, and we’ve hired the right people. And then you have to put them in positions to be successful and utilize their strengths and help them improve in the areas they don’t have as much experience in.
“That’s what I know. It is like a family. But you don’t get that culture just because it says it on a piece of paper or from a chart. You get it from living it every day and respecting one another and communicating well and trusting each other.”
The only person who has been in the office longer than Stentz is Vikki Caines, who is an administrative assistant and also the Customer Service Supervisor. Caines has been in the office since 1998 and over the years has seen the place become a family-oriented operation where everyone looks to help each other.
“I have been here for 20 years and the chain of command has changed twice,” Caines said. “With our director, Ben Stentz, we have created great teamwork. We have a saying, ‘whatever it takes’ or ‘teamwork makes the dream work.’ We are really together. We help each other and support each other and that is the catalyst of this department.”
Caines has seen that support first hand as her role has changed in the office over the last 20 years.
“Ben allowed me to grow and do what I do to make things happen,” she said. “When I came here I was a secretary that sat at her desk and was not really allowed to go outside. I wanted to be out. When the opportunity came to do that customer service, I just said I can do that.”
In addition to Caines and Ryan, the staff also includes Assistant Director of Recreation Evan Moorhead and Program Supervisors John Groeger and Nicole Paulucci. Paulucci has been part of the team for less than six months, but quickly became part of the family. In an office known for nicknames, it took her no time at all to fit right in.
“Before I even came here, everyone outside of here called me Cubby,” she said. “So coming in here when they were calling me Nicole was pretty weird. My old job they didn’t call me Cubby. I was always Nicole. My second or third day here they were like, do you have a nickname? Now I’m Cubby all the time and I fit right in.”
For Team PRD, being a family is something the whole office takes seriously. It’s an operation that services thousands of residents each year and does so with very few hiccups.
“I am often the one that gets the praise directly, but I am usually not the one that is out in the trenches,” Stentz said. “Because we’re like a family we do get on each others nerves sometimes. But I think those pillars of respect and trust and communication, you can’t just talk about, you have to be about it. I think 99 times out of 100 everyone shows up here and carries those things around. It’s a good group. They make me look good. And we have a lot of unsung heroes like the maintenance crew. They make us look good, too.”
The maintenance crew is made up of foreman Joe Scullion along with his crew of assistant foreman Gerry Macfarlan, as well as Adam Hurley, Shane Leuck, Steve Magyari, Ray McDowell, Kyle Rogers and Anthony Simone.
Stentz took over leading the department in 2010 when Jack Roberts retired. Right out of the gate he was looking to get the right people around him and knew exactly where to turn.
“When Jack left there was a lot of change happening,” Stentz recalled. “Getting Evan was huge. In my mind he is like our LeBron (James, NBA superstar). He can do everything. There is no part of this that he can’t do and do well. He’s kind of understated in his own way. But having Evan is like having a LeBron.”
Groeger, whose father was the longtime recreation director in Lawrence Township, joined the staff in 2014 and Paulucci came on this summer when former program supervisor Joe Marrolli left to become the Recreation Director in Pemberton Township.
“There have been some changes, but there has been good continuity and that is important,” Stentz said. “John comes from the best recreation stock there is. He grew up in it. He is a no-brainer fit because he has been around this stuff since he was a little kid. Just like I have and like Evan has. We all grew up in it.”
Moorhead did actually grow up with Princeton Recreation. After spending his youth participating in all of the programs, he got his first job in 1990 working as an attendant at the tennis hut at Community Park.
“I worked at the tennis courts in the spring of 1990 and I think I have been in the payroll system ever since,” Moorhead joked. “I did that for a year and that migrated into basketball, working the summer league and Dillon league.”
Groeger knows all about life in a recreation department from watching his father, Steve, run the Lawrence program for 32 years before retiring in 2014. He knows a lot about a recreation department being a family.
“It is definitely a family feel here and that is what makes it so successful,” Groeger said “It’s not just coming to work and just pushing through and hoping everything turns out all right. Everybody has your back and you always feel that no matter what you do, you’ve got a strong, stable system behind you.
“It’s easy to look at any program and just look at people as registration numbers. But when you have the ability on a Saturday at Dillon basketball or in the summer at day camp to go out and see the kids smiling and having a good time and know that if some of these programs weren’t able to run that they would just be sitting at home. To see how far you can reach with so many different demographics, it makes you feel good.”
Stentz knows he has the right staff in place and he also realizes much of what Team PRD accomplishes would never happen without the support of the Princeton administration.
“There are a lot of towns around the state where as budgets get tight and decisions have to be made, recreation is one area that takes a hit,” said Stentz, who like Moorhead, is a Princeton High School graduate. “Not just the current governing body, but even before when we were joint with Borough and Township, this department has always gotten a lot of support. They understand the value of what recreation means to people and opportunities whether it is physical fitness, social opportunities, or just bringing people together. And they have recognized you must have the resources to do it right, and most of the time, I feel like we have done it right.”
And Stentz feels like Team PRD has certainly done it right.
“The only way this works because of the kind of schedule that we have to have with the summer and the pool and evenings is if the staff is really bought into the whatever it takes thing,” Stentz said. “I can’t remember the last time we had anybody complain around here. So the buy-in from John, Nicole, Evan, the maintenance crew, being all in to work Saturdays and Sundays and long pool days and extra time they are not being paid for, they just do it because that’s what it takes.”
The Team PRD hashtag is prominent around the office and something everyone takes seriously.
“It is a reminder that this department is a team, and no matter what happens around us ,we’re going to stick together and support each other,” Stentz said. “I am proud of the culture and atmosphere that we have developed here. You can talk about having the right culture and different qualities, but talk is cheap. You have to show up every day and respect each other and help each other and I think that is what we do. It is like a family.
“I have been doing this most of my adult life, coming to this building. We do laugh a lot. We find things to laugh about. And we find a way to help each other and get the job done. That’s the bottom line.”