“We have a responsibility to make the place we live in better than how we found it,” said volunteer Joanne Dolman, who recalled the 2010 storm that toppled many mature trees. “It was sad, but we planted new trees and plants throughout the years, so now we have a great park again.”
Event coordinator Steve Melnick of Forest Hills founded Friends of MacDonald Park in 2012 after noticing the lack of attention that the highly visible spot merited.
“Sporadic cleaning and dead and neglected plantings gave the park a negative image, it's a small park but needed consistent upkeep,” he said. “We need to encourage more people of all ages to use the park and see how it has improved over the years. We want to make it a destination point.”
As part of City Council’s Parks Equity Initiative, Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz allocated funds to beautify her district’s parks, including several thousand dollars for the May 14th event.
“It's always good to be out in the sun, hands in the soil,” said volunteer John O’Reilly. “There's a wonderful spirit in gathering with residents of various ages and backgrounds, and I even got to meet knowledgeable members of the Parks Department and learned a few things about gardening.”
The event was the first time the group partnered with Brownie Troop #4414, a group of nine very enthusiastic third graders from Forest Hills and Kew Gardens.
“No matter how young you are, you can take action, become leaders, and bring about change,” said co-leader Donna Tom. “One person can inspire many diverse people, so it was great for them to meet Steve Melnick.”
The event also taught the children how to plant and the importance of protecting the environment.
They also encouraged dog walkers to become good neighbors. Etched in chalk on the brick circle was a slogan which read, “Poop alert! Stop, drop, and clean up after your dog.”
“We dressed up as dogs, wore slogans on posters attached to our Brownie vests, and wrote slogans with chalk,” said Skylar Tom. “After we left, our messages continued.”
Amy Long began volunteering with the group last year, and it inspired her to form the Earth Citizens Club at Ehrenreich-Austin Playground, which frequently partners with Friends of MacDonald Park.
“Once a person experiences that sense of giving back, it builds their empathy and a broader social mindfulness, since each of us has the power to create a better world,” she said. “Ultimately, if more people take ownership and action to appreciate and preserve the spaces they love, MacDonald Park can only get better.”
Melnick hopes the Parks Department will act on his long-term visions for the park.
“Every few years, a review of the greenery should be made,” he said. “Also, we desperately need a water irrigation system and fencing to protect vulnerable plants.”
Volunteer Mary Rose Kaddo brainstormed about the park’s future while she worked, including adding outdoor exercise equipment and a fountain for the local birds during the hot, dry months.
“Any type of competitive game would be great, such as a bocce court,” she said.