Ad Spot

Community champions: Staci Wells 

Shining in the community  

By Lauren Jackson 

Photo by Rachel Howard 

 When Staci Wells started her job at Parks and Recreation 26 years ago, she never imagined she would be where she is now. A Hartselle native, she has worked as the Parks and Recreation program coordinator for 10 years.  

Wells has been able to plan and help coordinate several events and programs for the community, but the one she is most passionate about is the Shining Stars program for individuals with special needs. For her, the program has a personal element, as well.  

“My son has autism, and there aren’t a lot of opportunities for him to become involved with his peers. So I talked to our director, and he was on board for us starting a program,” Wells explained. When we started the program three years ago, we started with a pageant. Then we approached the director, and we thought, ‘Hey, let’s do softball.’ We were doing softball at Sparkman School in the spring and thought we could do a fall league. Really that is what we intended to do  just softball – but then when we finished, we had 60 players that year, so obviously there was a need for the program, and we had great community support.” 

From the pageant and softball, the program has grown to include basketball, bowling and special events throughout the year.  

We are constantly looking for new things, and we always have great community support, which we are very fortunate for,” Wells said.  

With more than 100 people on the mailing list, the program has grown to include individuals not just from Hartselle but from Ardmore, Decatur, Cullman, Athens, Muscle Shoals and more.   

Wells’ work with the Shining Stars program has also earned her a place on the state committee for therapeutic recreation. The group helps organize Camp ASCAA – a recreational camp for individuals with physical and mental disabilities – and is working to create a standard for parks and recreation departments throughout the state to be able to offer similar programs.  

“We are working on a statewide rules and regulations, so that way they can compete against each other in a state tournament,” Wells said.  

Wells has also been asked to help train other departments on creating similar programs for their communities.  

“It was really a lot easier to pull together than I anticipated simply because the need was there and they were just waiting,” Wells said. I will tell them how to reach out to the population and where to go, how to get sponsors and just a basic guideline,”  

Having grown up in Hartselle, Wells has spent the majority of her life in the community. She said one of her favorite parts about her position is all the connections she is able to make and being able to help bring new ideas to the city. “I have met a lot of great people and have been able to do a lot of great things that I would not have been able to do if I didn’t have this job,” Wells said.  

“Hartselle is my home. I was born here, and I have lived in Hartselle my entire life. Anything I can do to help Hartselle helps me in turn – as selfish as that might be – but my big goal is that when I retire from here, I want to know that I have made it a better place.” 

The Shining Stars program has had a positive impact on her life, as well. Her son is a junior at Hartselle High School and is involved in the IRC program. Wells said she loves having an opportunity for her son to interact with his peers and for her to interact with other parents of children with special needs 

“We should have started this program earlier because we missed a lot of opportunities for people,” she said. The program not only helps the kids; it helps the parents. They get together and talk about their struggles, and they talk about different programs that are available to them that some of them don’t even know about.  

For us, the other program my son is involved with now, that’s how I found out about it,” Wells added. You don’t get a handbook when you get a diagnosis.” 

Wells said one of the things she has enjoyed the most in the Shining Stars program is the power in the friendships that have formed among the participants 

“I love how much fun they have participating in everything. The world would be so much better of a place if everybody got along as well as our individuals do,” she sadi. When we had camp, and we played bingo, and somebody else won a prize, everyone else cheered for them. They were happy someone else won a prize; they weren’t disappointed because they didnt win – they were excited because their friend did.  

We need a little more of that – a little more love.”