If not for the Parks Department, our elected officials, green and community organizations, and neighborhood volunteers, our parks would not be as green, clean, and safe, but of course there is always room for improvement. “It’s My Park Day” has become a tradition where neighborhood residents become visionaries, and engage in teamwork to help restore their parks out of passion.
May 19 is designated It’s My Park Day, and some additional events are occurring throughout May. Partnerships for Parks (P4P) will host 28 It’s My Park Day events in 27 Queens parks. In addition, there will be 36 events in the Bronx, 28 in Brooklyn, 10 in Staten Island, and 52 in Manhattan.
It’s My Park Day is usually held on the third Saturday of May and October, and events are held in over 150 parks citywide. In Queens, some events will be in MacDonald Park, Remsen Cemetery, Doughboy Plaza, Travers Park, Linden Park, Vincent Daniels Square, Astoria Park, Briarwood Playground, and many more.
In 2011, some It’s My Park Day events in Forest Hills and Rego Park were coordinated at the landmarked Remsen Family Cemetery, MacDonald Park, and Russell Sage Playground. Remsen Family Cemetery received cleanups and plantings.
In MacDonald Park, the Queens Boulevard Restoration Group and Forest Hills Jewish Center’s religious school planted, painted, and launched a cleanup. Likewise, the Queens Community House coordinated family and park volunteer activities in MacDonald Park and in JHS 190’s Russell Sage Playground.
According to Joe Block, Queens Outreach Coordinator for Partnerships For Parks (P4P), It’s My Park Day consists of gardening, spreading mulch and weeding horticultural areas, general clean-ups, and maintenance, including applying a fresh coat of paint to park infrastructure.
“This helps maintain the beauty of parks, and build a sense of connectedness and community with the neighborhood park,” he said. “In addition, free events such as dance performances and kayaking are held. Originating in 2005, seven volunteer recognition events have been held in Queens, with the latest being at Terrace on the Park.”
Prior to the creation of Partnerships for Parks, volunteer events were held throughout the year to spruce up select parks. In 1995, Partnerships for Parks was formed, and renamed the spring volunteer event as “Greenup Day,” and the fall event as “Cleanup Month.” In spring 1998, the spring event was re-branded, followed by a re-branding of the fall event in 2000. Both volunteer events are now known as It’s My Park Day.
Block has worked with P4P for three years, lives in Woodside, and participates in volunteer projects in his neighborhood and all over Queens. He connects volunteers to Parks Department staff for their Queens district in order to plan events to keep their parks in shape.
“As my new groups are being established and building relationships with park staff, I always try to participate with their first few projects to make sure it runs smoothly,” he said, “and I also make sure that the Parks Department is providing the tools and guidance needed to do the job correctly.”
One volunteer project he takes particular pride in took place in Forest Hills’ MacDonald Park. After the September 2010 tornado, P4P assisted volunteers with debris removal, and in spring 2011, P4P helped volunteers plant approximately 80 trees.
Financial analyst Steve Melnick is a 22-year Forest Hills resident and founder of the Queens Boulevard Restoration Group. He has a history of dedicating countless hours of local volunteerism.
“I roll up my sleeves and want to get some work done,” said Melnick. Six years ago, he coordinated an It’s My Park Day event at Willow Lake Playground. “Over 100 people volunteered, but at first, I underestimated how successful it would be. We planted, cleaned, played music, and held activities such as basketball and face-painting.”
Melnick has also participated in or ran at least a half-dozen other local events at MacDonald Park, Fleetwood Triangle, and Lost Battalion Hall. Two years ago on It’s My Park Day, he lent his expertise to a Queens Boulevard median cleanup, in partnership with The Doe Fund, and cleaned all tree pits between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike.
Melnick greatly embraces It’s My Park Day. “It’s great to see people coming out to the park, and getting involved in ways they normally wouldn’t,” he said. “People get ideas, give suggestions, acquire hands-on experience, develop a voice for their park, and become more attached. Then they provide feedback to local leaders and the Parks Department.
“We have such little green space in Forest Hills and Rego Park, and every piece should be cared for,” he added. “Our citizens and leaders need to work as one. Wherever there’s a park, people congregate, and want to live and work nearby. It is my hope that we acquire funding year-round for our small quantity of parks. Parks improve communities, and small projects add up. Hopefully, people will not only participate on It’s My Park Day, but year-round.”
Block also has something to say to all generations. “School children and teens are a huge help in our volunteer efforts,” he said. “Not only are they helping in making their neighborhoods beautiful, but they are having fun too.
Volunteering is a social experience that brings people of all ages together for one common purpose: a sense of community,” Block added. “New Yorkers who choose to volunteer in their community parks are leaders who keep our communities strong and healthy. They serve as model citizens to others. There is a direct correlation between the quality of parks and neighborhoods level of community engagement. This is brought about by volunteers who care enough to make the changes they want to see.”
To volunteer for It's My Park Day, visit Itsmypark.org.