Chris Waite 40-40

Chris Waite 40 under 40 recipient

LARRY MAYER Gazette Staff

Age: 37

Hometown: La Grande, Oregon

Chris Waite is responsible for a huge portion of keeping the Parks and Recreation Department running for the City of Billings as the volunteer coordinator. He helps secure funding for the department and work to coordinate activities in the parks and programming for the community. 

You are responsible for making the Billings Parks and Recreational program successful. Is it stressful to have to oversee that many people?

My main area of responsibility is coordinating volunteers for the Parks and Recreation Department. On average, there are about 2,000 volunteers that provide service each year to the parks. I find that I thrive on being busy and engaged, so I don’t view my job as stressful. A big part of being successful is time management. It is important for me to provide a positive experience to volunteers. When I am facilitating a project or volunteer opportunity, I try to be open in my communication about the timeframes that are required to have the most successful service. Volunteers have a lot of enthusiasm and usually want to jump in and get involved right away, so it is important to be clear that a lot of the work we do in parks and recreation takes planning and coordinating to be done correctly.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

I find it very rewarding to work with such a broad group of people who are passionate about improving their community through volunteerism. These volunteers are an inspiration and a gift to work with.

What is the most exciting part of the parks and recreation future?

The Parks and Recreation Department just completed a comprehensive plan. Part of that plan took a critical look at deficiencies and opportunities within the park system to address inequalities. There is a lot of positive momentum building to find ways to fund the completion of undeveloped and underdeveloped parks. I am most excited to see how this plan comes to fruition in the future.

What is your vision for Billings during the next decade?

During the next decade, there will be a big turnover in the workforce as Baby Boomers retire. Billings has so many great features like trails, parks, good schools and healthcare services. My vision for Billings would be to build on these strengths and invest in the community to make it a place that can attract and retain the next generation of leaders and innovators.

What is your greatest failure?

I failed to buy bitcoins early on when they weren’t as valuable. On a more serious note, I don’t know if this is considered a failure, but I have a hard time saying no to things. I have a tendency to overcommit.

We hear a lot about trails as part of Billings’ future. What role will trails play in Billings in the next couple of years?

Many people value the improved quality of life that a strong trail system brings to a community. As our trail system expands, I think it will play an increasingly important role in attracting people to Billings. Also, it will continue to be an amenity that improves health outcomes for citizens. The trail system connects our city in a transportation sense, but also serves as a public space that brings citizens of varying backgrounds together. Growing our trail system will hopefully strengthen our connections with each other.

Why have you chosen to live in Billings?

I originally came here because my position was newly created and it would give me the opportunity to shape and build a program and grow professionally. Since moving here, I have found Billings has a nice mix of amenities that me and my family enjoy like parks, trails, places to paddle board and a nice public library. It is large enough that it has all the things I need, but small enough that everything is very accessible. I love being able to meet up with my wife and children after work in places like Riverfront Park or the trails in the Rims.

How do you get others excited about parks and recreation in Billings?

I love the work I do. I am very passionate about parks and trails. We are fortunate to live in a city where our predecessors preserved and invested in these great public spaces that touch all our lives directly or indirectly. For me, sharing that enthusiasm is key to energizing others about parks and recreation. We have a few special events like Arbor Day and Refresh the Rims that are another great way to get people excited about parks and rec.

How do achieve a work-life balance?

My line of work requires me to work when volunteers are available, so that means I work odd shifts that include nights and weekends. Achieving a work-life balance includes consciously scheduling in time to be with my family. My wife does a good job reminding me that my employer gives me vacation time so I can recharge. Taking time off from work on occasion to recreate helps preserve that balance.

What is the best piece of advice given to you?

You can’t control what happens to you, but you can choose how you respond.