After working for nearly 33 years for the Town of West Hartford, Director of Human and Leisure Services Jim Capodiece has decided it's time to move on.
However, after spending the majority of his career directing planning leisure activities for others, he's fairly confident he will keep busy in his own leisure time, spending time with his family that includes two married daughters and three grandchildren. "I've never taken a consecutive two-week vacation," he said.
Capodiece, who has an undergraduate degree in education and a masters in public administration, began working in West Hartford as an assistant manager in West Hartford's recreation division in 1980. He had been working in Berlin, where he was recreation director, but took the assistant position "because of what West Hartford had to offer," he said.
"West Hartford had great facilities, great programs, and the opportunity to get involved in different areas," he said.
And since 1980, he's seen many changes.
The biggest change, Capodiece said, has been in the area of technology. "Everything we did was on paper, with a notebook, a typewriter. Today everything is done online. You don't have to come into Town Hall and register during the hours we're open Monday through Friday."
And although technology such as his smartphone has turned Capodiece's job into even more of a seven-day-a-week job, he said at least when he comes into the office, he's not trying to catch up with emails.
One of the most notable aspects about working in West Hartford, Capodiece said, is the town's "professional image" among municipalities. In 2006 he also became director of the town's human services department, and said that both departments are staffed with such "caring and sensitive people – people who really care about the constituents in the community they're serving."
The demographics of that constituency have changed dramatically during Capodiece's 33-year career. In the early 80s, he said, the senior population was increasing dramatically, but then school enrollment jumped up creating more of a demand for youth programs. Now the retiring baby boomers are turning into seniors, but it's a different environment, he said.
In 1982, West Hartford had only nine youth leagues. Now that has doubled to 18 leagues. "The number of kids involved in youth sports has increased significantly, with approximately 7,000 registrants last year," he said. Thirty years ago there were only about 3,000 registrants.
That demand for leisure programs has created a strain on the town's facilities, even though West Hartford has 101 athletic fields. "We've been bursting at the seams for four years, but this community has been very supportive," Capodiece said.
He's grateful for the community groups that have worked tirelessly to raise more than $1.2 million to help add to West Hartford's recreational facilities – groups like the Field of Dreams, Diamond Ball, and Miracle League of Connecticut.
"What we've been able to do is take our limited and scarce resources, and expand their use," he said. Replacing the grass high school stadium fields with turf helped add facilities for youth sports, and if the efforts of the "West Hartford High Schools Unite for Lights" group brings lights to those stadiums, it will help expand the field use for both high school and youth leagues.
Capodiece is also proud that his department funds most of what it does – 75 percent of an approximately $6 million budget – through fees, charges, and grants. "That's been a priority, minimizing the tax burden," he said. West Hartford charges fees for leisure services programs, and for using the town's pools, skating rink, and golf courses. Rockledge Golf Course has covered its own costs for 25 straight years, Capodiece said.
He's proud of the community partnerships that the town has been able to foster during his tenure, with groups such as the West Hartford Art League, Noah Webster House, and The Bridge Family Center. "Our role is to try to partner for good community programming, working with other groups to help meet the community's needs," he said.
West Hartford's involvement with the "Lose the Training Wheels" bike camp for special needs children (which will now go by the program name "I Can Bike") brought together not only a leisure services component, but also involved West Hartford Police, Fire Department, and West Hartford Public Schools participants. Conard High School's Kids Helping Kids club raised much of the money to fund the camp last year. "It's an expensive program to run, but without that, it would not have occurred."
Capodiece said that the West Hartford Bicycle Advisory Committee and Miracle League will partner with leisure services to ensure that "I Can Bike" continues this year.
He's proud of Celebrate West Hartford – which started as a small town fair and is now a regional celebration thanks to the work of a community committee.
He's proud of the growth in youth sports, and the cooperative relationship with West Hartford Athletic Director Betty Remigino-Knapp.
He's proud of the Summer Arts Program, and the work leisure services has done in conjunction with Haig Shahverdian.
Capodiece said no single achievement makes him the proudest. "They're all important," he said. "West Hartford is a successful community, and will continue to be a successful community, pulling together for common causes."
Although he doesn't know how the town will address his replacement, he believes there is a lot of value from having leisure and human services work as one department. "Both groups are servicing a broad need in the community. There are so many different groups in this community, and we step up and meet their needs."
Capodiece doesn't have a firm retirement date set, but is targeting early March.
"I really appreciate the opportunity that this council, prior councils, and town managers have given me to work in this community," he said.