Volunteers Pull Weeds, Have Fun, at McKinley Square

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Many neighbors and friends have labored on the steep slopes surrounding McKinley Square Park in an on-going effort to improve the park. But the weeds continue to grow, and the City gardener’s job is never done. Coordinating efforts to help make McKinley Square a better park can deflate even the most dedicated volunteers. Volunteers can be recruited – Joyce Book, McKinley Square Park Foundation’s executive director deployed a website, VolunteerMatch – but to work in the park a series of permissions must be obtained, involving a number of people.

Book started with Steve Cismowski, who heads the Neighborhood Service Area of the Recreation and Park Department (RPD). Cismowski liked the idea of more volunteers, but didn’t have the staff to organize them. The next step was Eric Hill, acting supervisor for McKinley Square. He identified areas where work was needed. Then came Kristen Bowman, RPD’s volunteer coordinator, who signed on to help get the project off the ground.

VolunteerMatch attracted volunteers, including The Arc of San Francisco. The Arc’s mission is to serve people with developmental disabilities by promoting self-determination, dignity, and quality of life. “We are always looking for more opportunities to introduce our clients to new skills, provide exposure to new opportunities and to learn and have different experiences out in the community. Volunteering at McKinley Square Park really matches that goal,” said Heather Haberlin, The Arc’s Resource Developer.

“I have a godson, Roland, with Down syndrome and he loves to garden,” said Book. “He just loves it. If I let him, he would garden for days and nights. Add some music and a slice of pizza here and there and Roland would live in the garden if I let him.”

The Arc proposed to provide more than 20 volunteers, with one instructor for every five clients. RPD agreed to give it a try. Cismowski planned a project focusing on the park’s lower western paths – near 20th Street and San Bruno Avenue – where the off-leash dog areas are located.

It was like a small army had descended onto the park. Rakes scrapped the ground, debris was removed, hands got dirty and sweat appeared on brows: the activity took place on the year’s hottest day. Book coordinated snacks and bathroom breaks. The afternoon evolved beyond weed pulling; joy was taken in work that’s usually drudgery. The shovels didn’t just dig into the ground, they explored the earth. Those who were normally quiet began to talk, and those not shy talked louder. “It is such a pleasure to work with such a hard working group. Our staff was thrilled by the quality and quantity of work accomplished. The Arc is a really fun group and we look forward to the ongoing partnership at McKinley Square,” said Hill.

“I was worried that the heat would lower their enthusiasm,” said Book. But when the vans returned the following week, all the volunteers returned as well. “They are actually more efficient and easier to work with,” said David Lamb, the lone City gardener on week two. Groups formed almost wordlessly to collect and move large bags of debris to a collection point at the top of Vermont Street. The weather was cooler and the sunshine warmed everyone. While the hard work was getting done outdoors, Phil Ginsburg, RPD’s general manager acknowledged the behind the scenes work of neighbors: “Facilitating a volunteer park project requires the efforts of many. We owe a huge thank you to the McKinley Square Park Foundation and The Arc volunteers who tackled the projects on the west slope of the park and helped remove three to four truckloads of weeds on a weekly basis.”

Harry Keenan was almost giddy as he greeted everyone in the park. He wasn’t the most efficient worker, but he was certainly enjoying himself as he talked with his co-workers. Lamb surveyed the large pile of debris and weeds, knowing more work got done than he could’ve completed. Next week, the volunteers will return for another bout with McKinley Square Park’s weedy hills.

For more information on The Arc of San Francisco or the McKinley Square Park Foundation: www.thearcsf.org; www.mckinleysquarepark.org.

News Source: The Potrero View
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