Reno Fells, a lifelong resident of Palatka, has dedicated his entire career to serving the community.
“This is my town. I love Palatka. I remember my days here as a child, and I had a great childhood. The people all got along; everyone took care of one another, lived, and played together.”
Now, as the City of Palatka’s Community Affairs Department’s recreation coordinator, his job is to help organize children and adult programs.
“I know from my own experience what organized recreation does for children and for young people. I played Little League baseball, and I wasn’t good at it, but I did play. I think if I didn’t play High school football, I probably would have quit school because I hated school,” he said.
Fells didn’t quit High School. He graduated from Palatka High School in 1985 and then received a full scholarship to Florida State University, where he played football for Coach Bobby Bowden.
After college, Fells returned home and joined the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, where he started as a corrections officer, and then a school resource deputy. Joined the Palatka Police Department in 1997 as a Community Service Officer and rose through the office to be a commander.
He was asked by then Palatka Chief of Police Bill Dolinski to join his Community Services Department to help build bridges between the Police Department and the community.
I served as a liaison between the Police Department and the community, implementing community policing initiatives, such as crime prevention programs and creating opportunities for the police and the community to work together.
After leaving the Police Department to work in juvenile corrections in St. Johns County for several years, Fells returned to Palatka to continue his public service and work helping children do good as Recreation Coordinator in the Community Affairs Department.
The department’s recreation program offers youth activities such as flag football, soccer, T-ball and kickball. Fells says he looks forward to offering an open gym for basketball at the Jenkins facility along with other programs.
“This has probably been the most rewarding job I have had,” said Fells, “This assignment gives me the opportunity of working with families and children of all demographics and backgrounds. I see what I do as prevention.”
As part of Fells’ course work for his graduate degree in Public Administration and a graduate of the
Southern Police Institute, he studied the effects of community in crime prevention.
“While in college, as a project in a human growth and development class, I conducted a survey of inmates in the Putnam County Jail, that asked about participation in family, church, school, and recreational programs. Ninety-five percent of the respondents to the question, who were inmates in jail, were in the negative in those areas.” said Fells, “There are always some common risk factors that you will find in any community when there aren’t any organized outlets for young people — high crime, higher drop-out rates, higher drug use, etc.”
A city without a good recreation program is a town that’s not going to flourish because of what recreation does for not just children, but for families and communities, he continued.
Under Fells’s direction, the City just completed a successful youth flag football program.
The program, part of the National Football League’s Youth NFL FLAG program, had eleven teams named for NFL teams, playing on Saturday mornings behind the Community Affairs Department’s new location in the old Jenkins Middle School gym. The teams were sponsored by businesses that helped with the cost of the uniforms and equipment.
The Dolphins were sponsored by McQueen Homes, LLC, a Maryland-based real estate investment and management company owned by Palatka native Ronald McQueen.
“Although I moved away from Palatka after school in the 1980s, I still consider the City home,” McQueen said in a telephone interview, “My involvement in the athletic programs offered by the City helped me become the person I am today.”
“However successful I have become, I always remind myself that I grew up poor in the College Arms Apartments in Palatka.” he said, “It wasn’t for some of the coaches and other adults in those programs helping me and guiding me my life could have been very different.”
“That is why I sponsored the team. I know personally how important community programs are,” he said.
The city recreation department works to help all residents.
“One thing I try to make sure people understand is that recreation is bigger than just sports. It’s not just flag, football, soccer, and baseball. We offer a free yoga class once a week. Through volunteers, we offer free aerobics and are working to add more activities for adults.” said Fells, “Palatka and Putnam County are some of the unhealthiest communities in Florida. We work with the health department and other organizations because we want to get people in Palatka moving and be healthy because we have some of the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer in the state.”
“Sometimes, we tend to focus on how much we differ, but we all want to be healthy, right? We all want to have a good quality of life. Working on that is one thing we can do together. I am 57 years old and have been a part of this community all my life. I can honestly say I am optimistic in the direction of our city and that the city is moving in a positive direction. I’m hopeful that the future plans for the city is going to make the lives of all of us better, happier, and healthier,” said Fells.
Information on programs offered by the City’s Department of Community Affairs and Recreation Department can be found at www.Palatka-fl.gov or by calling (386) 329-0100 ext. 331.