Community Spotlights

How these volunteers are making Philly’s parks inclusive, beautiful, and fun spaces for all

by The Conservancy and PPR Park Stewardship Team on December 20, 2018

Philadelphia holds the admirable distinction of being home to the largest network of park stewards and volunteers in the country. There are more than 115 Park Friends Groups in the Philadelphia Park Friends Network, including hundreds of volunteers who work year-round to clean, green, and steward their neighborhood parks across the city.

The Philadelphia park system would not be what it is today without this network of incredibly dedicated volunteers, who host cleanups, movie nights, yoga classes, and more fun and free events throughout the year. Each and every group deserves recognition for their tremendous stewardship. This year, at the Park Friends Holiday Party, Fairmount Park Conservancy and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation recognized select Friends Groups for their efforts over the past 12 months. Get to know the Park Friends Groups below, and if you’re inspired by their work, please consider joining your neighborhood park friends group in 2019!

The Inclusion Award: Friends of Malcolm X Park

The Inclusion Award goes to a Friends Group who makes it their mission to ensure that their park is a welcoming and inclusive space for all to enjoy. The Friends of Malcolm X Park for many years have incorporated the principle of inclusion into their daily mission. They hold public Friends Group meetings right in the park, they host a jazz series and other events that appeal to a large cross section of neighbors, and more recently in 2018 they have been co-leading a master plan process for Malcolm X ensuring all neighborhood voices are reflected in the new plan for the park.

Service Award: Belmont Plateau Trails Alliance

The Service Award goes to a Friends Group that is committed to keeping their park clean, safe and ready to use through routine service and maintenance. The Belmont Plateau Trails Alliance embodies the essence of this award and since their inception, continually strive to improve the overall conditions of the park. Through many regularly scheduled cleanups and trail service days, they have removed literally tons and tons of trash and recycling from The Belmont Plateau, some of it dating back many decades.

Their ability to organize and host service days that are both fun and rewarding is evident in the number of participants, diversity of participants and high percentage of consistently returning volunteers. This is non-glamorous work that takes coordination, commitment and consistency. The BPTA believes that the park serves as a means to give back to the larger community and in keeping it clean and inviting, it will remain a treasure for all to utilize for generations to come.

Activation Award: The Friends of McPherson Square

This year’s Activation Award goes to a Friends Group that seeks to activate their park space through programming, events and clean ups. These positive activities bring community together to celebrate and care for their beloved park. This year’s Activation Award went to The Friends of McPherson Square. The Friends of McPherson Square work tirelessly to engage neighbors, city and local partners to create positive experiences in a park that faces many challenges. McPherson Square Park & Library is located in the center of the opioid crisis in Kensington. Homelessness and rampant drug use is the heartbreaking everyday reality of this park. The Friends have compassionately advocated for services for these vulnerable populations and coordinated with Parks and REC, the Library and other City agencies to address many concerns. The Friends and especially Yuliana have been dedicated to organizing many clean ups.

Another Friend, Maria Rivas, also known as the Lunch Lady, has volunteered for over 10 years to ensure that the children in the neighborhood always have a meal. The Friends support the library’s programs, PPR summer programming and have hosted Summer Fest in the Park in addition to engaging many partners to come into the park to offer programs and services for the community.

Leadership Award: Elaine Fera of Friends of Stephen Girard Park

The Leadership Award goes to a Friend who has demonstrated leadership qualities that have aided their Friends Group to meet their goals, navigate complications and bring people together around a shared mission. That’s why Elaine Fera of Friends of Stephen Girard Park is well-deserving of this year’s Leadership Award. The community around the park knows they can count on Elaine for all of their park needs. Recently Elaine was cool, calm and collected as she led the Friends of Stephen Girard Park through a lengthy capital improvement project. She is dedicated to helping the park become a more beautiful place and she goes above and beyond to bring her neighbors together for monthly clean ups and fun events.

She was a crucial part in starting the newly formed Friends of Stephen Girard Park by bringing together members of two separate neighborhood groups, navigating tough situations and ultimately led her community to rally around one common goal: improving the park. She is a diligent volunteer advocate, who finds a solution to every issue.

Environment Award: Diane Kunze of Friends of Overington Park

The Environment Award goes to a Friend who is committed to promoting, protecting and improving the ecosystems within our parks. For many years as a park friend, Diane Kunze of Friends of Overington Park has been dedicated to greening Overington Park. Diane is an excellent gardener who has planted beautiful perennial gardens in the park featuring many native pollinator plants that provide nourishment and shelter for many different native insects and birds that make the urban ecosystem thrive. These beautiful gardens would not exist in Overington Park without her continued dedication and encouragement of volunteers, the Overington Park Gardens get better and more beautiful every year.

The Community Garden Award: Hunting Park Community Garden

The Community Garden Award goes to a community garden that goes above and beyond to ensure their garden is an active green space. These gardens serve as oases for community to gather to grow food, share knowledge and celebrate traditions. Tonight we are awarding the Community Garden Award to Hunting Park Community Garden. Michael Wilcox, Wadia Gardiner and all of the gardeners have cultivated a welcoming food paradise in the heart of Hunting Park. Their vegetable gardens, orchards and pollinator gardens have been tended to with love and dedication. Over the years they have not only grown amazing nutritious food for their families and community, but have sought to engage neighbors, schools groups and Girl Scouts in garden activities as well as support a thriving Saturday Farmers Market in Hunting Park.

Seasonal Maintenance Attendant (SMA) Award: Rob Golden

The Seasonal Maintenance Attendant Award goes to an SMA who regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty to ensure their park is well cared for. Rob Golden is passionate in his love for the Frankford Boat Launch, Lardner’s Point Park and the connecting K&T trail. His passion and pride in his work does not go unnoticed by park users. He engages the public and inspires visitors to care for the spaces like it’s their own backyard. Rob can often be found enjoying these spaces, as well as keeping an eye on them, in his off hours. Much like the parks he cares for, Rob is a hidden gem in Northeast Philadelphia.