Under New Director, Orleans Is Seeing A Recreation Resurgence

by Ryan Bray
Tom DeSiervo, pictured here at his office on Main Street, was hired as the town’s recreation director in November.  RYAN BRAY PHOTO Tom DeSiervo, pictured here at his office on Main Street, was hired as the town’s recreation director in November. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – When Tom DeSiervo visited Orleans with his wife last fall, he saw opportunity. Now six months into his role as the town’s recreation director, he’s wasted little time seizing upon it.

DeSiervo inherited a department that has struggled to create and maintain programming in recent years, particularly during the summer season. But coming on the heels of expanded winter and spring programming, this summer promises to be different, with track and field, dance and drawing among the new initiatives coming this season.

“There could be more programming,” he said. “We’re still meeting with instructors.”

After a turbulent stretch that saw the resignation of former director Alan Harrison in early 2023 and the swift departure of his successor, Patricia McDonald, last spring, officials say they’ve found the right person to lead the town’s recreation efforts in DeSiervo, who came to Orleans after running recreation departments in his native New Jersey.

“I salute you, because we’ve been waiting a decade for this,” Andrea Reed of the select board said following a recreation update DeSiervo provided the board on April 24.

Within weeks of being hired in November, DeSiervo set his sights on winter recreation programming. Working with staff at Orleans Elementary School, the recreation department introduced a two day a week open gym program, as well as indoor soccer on Saturday mornings. Those came in addition to returning programs including basketball, pickleball and early bird fitness.

DeSiervo said he’s been met “with open arms” by town staff since his arrival. Making those connections, including with local school administrators, was critical in being able to start setting a foundation for programming moving forward, he said.

“I tried to meet with the middle school, and I was able to meet with the principal,” he said. “I wanted to meet with the elementary school, they were receptive. Having that relationship now where if I do need that indoor space or if we need that outdoor space, you’re able to say ‘Well I have Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, let’s see how I can finagle this.’”

The recreation staff, which also includes former director Brendan Guttmann and program manager Ivan Popov, worked to carry that winter momentum into the spring. In addition to returning programs such as baseball, softball, tennis and lacrosse, the team introduced a Tuesday soccer clinic and youth pickleball on Wednesdays, as well as a new weightlifting program for students in fifth through eighth grade on Saturdays. The department also introduced an adult yoga program on Saturday mornings.

Tracy Murphy chairs the town’s recreation advisory committee. She said with DeSiervo, the committee has a director whose vision and philosophy for local recreation aligns with its own.

“Tom has been really incredible to work with,” she said. “He’s ambitious and enthusiastic. The committee has certainly made recommendations, but in many cases he’s gotten to things before we’ve been able to make recommendations. More often than not, we’ll hear him talk about wanting to do something that we’ve wanted someone to take on for the past five years.”

DeSiervo said the interest in the community for more recreation options was there, it was just a matter of throwing “as much against the wall and seeing what sticks.”

‘You have to be open to any and everything,” he said. “Especially now after COVID. The shift of what children are interested in specifically, it’s not just basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring, summer camp in the summer. So you have to find that niche. And that’s where we got to ‘Alright, let’s do yoga. Let’s see if there’s interest.’ And there was.”

Returning this summer is the swim program at Pilgrim Lake, the Just Try It program for middle school aged children and the summer fun playground for children entering kindergarten through fifth grade. Those programs will run from July 1 through Aug 9.

New programs this summer include track and field, which is being introduced in collaboration with the Brewster recreation department, as well as dance and drawing technique classes. There also will be a multisports camp on the seventh and final week of summer programming, DeSiervo said.

As evidenced by programs like weightlifting, dance and drawing, recreation is about more than just sports. The recreation department’s goal, DeSiervo said, is to provide something for everybody, from toddlers to seniors.

“The whole point is I want it to be a safe haven for children,” DeSiervo said. “It has to be a safe haven. I want the parents to trust that when they bring their child to a program, they’re going to enjoy it and they’re going to be safe. And I want every child to come out of that program every week or day loving it.”

“He really doesn’t seem daunted by what are pretty high hopes in the community for bringing things together,” Murphy said. “He really takes things on.”

Building the program requires striking a balance between providing services that residents and visitors want with keeping offerings affordable. That can sometimes be a delicate line to walk, but DeSiervo said the recreation department offers financial assistance to residents and families who might have difficulty paying program registration fees.

“One of my big mission statements, one of the things that drives me, is I don’t want a child to not participate because they don’t have the means to,” he said.

The gains in recreation programming are already paying dividends, as registration is up significantly from past years. DeSiervo said from his November start through April, the number of program registrations has tripled from the same time last year.

During his April 24 update, DeSiervo also said efforts have been made to update the recreation department’s myRec web page to make it more accessible and easier for visitors to register for programming online.

“He has literally been dealing with my little bit of extra knowledge about how frustrating that page is,” said Town Manager Kim Newman, who has a child that participates in the Just Try It program. “Hearing that that page is being rebuilt is a little bit of a blessing to me as someone who has struggled through bad systems.”

DeSiervo has been one of several new administrative hires made since Newman assumed the town manager role in July. He called Newman “a strong leader” and said he’s excited to be part of that broader transition in town government.

“We have a new finance director, we have a new assistant town manager, a new recreation director, a new DPW director. What’s exciting is we can all get together and talk shop and figure things out,” he said.

DeSiervo said he was drawn to a career in recreation in part through his own experiences participating in youth programs as a child. The memories he made were formative, and as director, he said his goal is to help foster that same love for recreation in children who sign up for programming in Orleans.

“This isn’t a job to me,” he said. “It really isn’t. I just try to always keep the mindset that I want these children to enjoy it as much as I did.”

After years of struggling to help recreation find its footing, Murphy said there’s optimism among recreation committee members that the department’s best days are still ahead.

“I think we’re almost ready to accept that things are going to be pretty great for a while,” she said. “We can kick back and enjoy the show.”

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com