Nicole Seahorn Hameen’s connection to Philadelphia’s parks began with a walk.
Nicole has lived in Philadelphia for more than three decades, but she had never visited FDR Park until 2017 when it was chosen as one of three pilot sites for We Walk PHL, a program in partnership with Fairmount Park Conservancy, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.
“I’ve driven up and down Broad Street for years and I had no idea FDR was there,” says Nicole, remembering her first visit as a participant in the We Walk program. “I got off the train and went into the park and I was all smiles.”
Nicole calls FDR her “spark park,” because that visit changed her life. A few weeks later, she volunteered to become a We Walk group leader. A few months later, she joined the We Walk admin team part-time as the Program Coordinator. In January 2021 she joined the Fairmount Park Conservancy’s team as the Community Program Coordinator, now the Education and Engagement Specialist.
“This program empowered me to want to know more about Philadelphia,” she says.
Now entering its sixth year, We Walk has grown from three parks to 18. Each location has trained group leaders, usually from surrounding neighborhoods, who make participants feel welcomed and involved. Philadelphians of all ages and abilities have taken advantage of the free program since its launch. Last year, the program had over 5,100 participants, and the We Walk PHL Facebook group has over 2,800 members.
“You see the spark happen when I introduce (participants) to the program,” she says. “Walking connects people with their neighbors and their neighborhoods. This program is so empowering, so enriching.”
We Walk PHL has also been life-changing. Some participants say the program has helped them lose significant amounts of weight, transforming their formerly sedentary lifestyles. Others say We Walk has re-introduced them to the natural world, imparting a sense of calm and healing. All of them say the relationships forged on these weekly walks have enriched their lives.
“We’re building communities outside of our homes, communities of people who would not have normally intersected at all,” Nicole says. “When I introduce people to the program, I tell them that whether they (walk) with me or someone else, they’re going to find their tribe. They’re going to find their people.”
Some walk leaders will narrate strolls, pointing out certain trees or flowers. Others will share bits of history. On Nicole’s inaugural walk in FDR Park, the leaders “really engaged us by telling stories about the park and the neighborhood. I was able to really be in the park, to see the park and to walk the park, not just traveling through it but intentionally going into the space,” she remembers.
Still, most Walk Leaders simply act as shepherds and, as shepherds do, they tend to their flocks. One walk leader says she loves that she can see every trail in her park without interference so she can keep an eye on those who may struggle. No one walks alone, unless they absolutely want to.
One We Walk priority is reintroducing BiPOC with the land that many of their ancestors once tended, forcibly or by choice. The positives from those relationships go beyond the health of individuals, having a healing effect on entire communities. In effect, We Walk invites long-neglected people to give themselves much needed self-care.
“The program taps into an individual’s potential,” Nicole says. “Feeling connected in a broader sense is what this program breeds for me and for many others.”
Click here to learn more about the We Walk PHL program.
We Walk PHL is funded in part by the Pa. Department of Health’s Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant.