Meet A New Yorker for Parks: Missy Adams, Chelsea Garden Club

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

In the fall of 2015 New York City celebrated the planting of its millionth tree as part of the MillionTreesNYC initiative, which increased the urban forest by 20%. This is great for the quality of our public spaces, but with the city budget stretched thin maintenance of the trees has sometimes been lacking. This has inspired many New Yorkers to care for street trees and tree pits in their neighborhoods, using their own time, money, and resources.

To help celebrate this milestone, at our annual Daffodil Breakfast New Yorkers for Parks is honoring New Yorkers who use the daffodils they receive through the Daffodil Project as a way to care for their street trees and tree pits. This year’s Manhattan honoree is the Chelsea Garden Club, who turned the once-neglected and trash-strewn tree pits along 8th and 9th Avenues into urban oases.

“I vividly remember the first time I came into contact with the Daffodil Project,” recalls Missy Adams, founder of the club. “I was leaving the Union Square Greenmarket, and two people at a small table asked if I wanted free daffodil bulbs. They explained what the project was all about, and I thought it would be great for the tree pits in front of my apartment building. I figured that they would just give me a few, but they filled my backpack to the top. From then on the Daffodil Project was burned into my brain, what a really fantastic thing it is.”

The tree pits in front of her apartment building were the first places Missy began caring for. “They had standing water, some of the trees were rotting, they were full of litter, and dogs were using them on a regular basis,” she remembers. “Getting the tree pits to a place where I could maintain them well was an uphill battle.”

When protected bicycle lanes were installed on Ninth Avenue in 2007, the Department of Transportation also installed pedestrian islands with larger tree pits. DOT planted trees and bushes, but little was done in the way of maintenance. Missy noticed someone further up Ninth Avenue maintaining their tree pits, and she originally thought (as many of us do) it was the Parks Department. But it turned out that all the work was being done by a local volunteer like herself, and it inspired her to do the same.

Missy didn’t intend to start an official club, but asked if people wanted to work together when the city began ripping up the plants she and other folks were caring for, and replacing them with other plants. She tried to explain to the workers pulling out the beds that she and other volunteers were caring for them, but they said that they had a contract from the city and he had to get done. “It seemed so ridiculous for the city to spend money on it, when we were doing it for free.”

Missy met with a representative of State Senator Tom Duane’s office who found all of the agencies responsible and set up a meeting with them and the community board, with the goal of giving Missy and the other folks in the neighborhood permission to garden in the pits. Missy felt that they would be more effective at the meeting if everyone joined together, so about 10 people formed the Chelsea Garden Club. “We all knew that it was good for everyone,” Missy explained. “We would save the city money while providing a valuable service.”

The Club had a rough start because of the high cost of plants and the difficulty in maintaining tree pits, and they were looking for anything they could get for free. The club signed up to get free bulbs from NY4P, and in their second year they planted 1,500 bulbs up and down 8th and 9th Avenue. Because the daffodils naturalize, and most of the pits are adopted, they haven’t had to put many more in since.

“The daffodils are always the first flower to bloom every year, and are the harbinger of spring for our neighborhood. They’re just so bright and beautiful. I find them heroic in their ability to come back year after year. Any plant that can survive the city really is.”

“The plants remind people that something is happening on the streets, and people are maintaining it,” Missy explains, reflecting on how the sense of stewardship and pride extends throughout the neighborhood. They’ve even installed a few Chelsea Garden Club and Daffodil Project signs in the pits. “Strangers come up to us all the time and thank us for their work and say how much they appreciate it. A lot of people don’t realize that the work isn’t being done by the city.”

“It’s really important to get the word out. People need to know that these daffodils are coming from New Yorkers for Parks, and that these gardens and green spaces wouldn’t exist without this community effort.”

When asked if she has any advice for other folks interested in maintain their tree pits, Missy says to “just start planting.” “First make sure no one else is working that spot. But if it’s empty and neglected, put some daffodils in there. It’s not complicated. Word of mouth helps a lot if you want to start a group. We get local press coverage through Chelsea Now, and they really help spread the word. Track down people from other tree pits and invite them to join. Be aware of your neighborhood, and whatever you do, don’t get put off by the challenges.”

“Every year that it continues is awesome. I’m always surprised that it keeps growing,” she says when asked what she’s most proud of. “It’s such a lovely group of people. This may sound schmaltzy, but I find it to be a very selfless act. At its core it’s a very generous thing that each person is doing. There are a lot of challenges, but also a lot of payoff. It started off as a random, almost accidental thing. We’ve crept along step by step, feeling our way through. It’s a big achievement, and I don’t think any other neighborhood in Manhattan has done quite so much.”

“There is no grand plan or ambition; we simply want to plant something lovely to look at that might also shelter and feed a few birds, butterflies, and bees.”

When asked if she has any parting words to share, Missy says the Daffodil Project bulbs have been very “garden-affirming,” and gave the club an easy way to start. “It’s been so great for us and the community. The Club and NY4P are kindred spirits like that. We just want to make our public spaces better, and aren’t looking for much in return. It’s something that the world needs more of.”

#DaffodilProject on NY1

Monday, March 28, 2016

Today New Yorkers for Parks and the Friends of Morningside Park were featured on NY1, showing off Daffodil Project blooms in the beautiful and historic Harlem location. The Friends of Morningside Park have participated in the Daffodil Project since its beginning in 2001, and the committed volunteer group exemplifies the dedication to community green spaces that make the project such a success. Watch the feature here, and sign up for our newsletter to find out when you can register to receive bulbs for the 2016 fall planting season. If you have Daffodil Project blooms near you, share them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with hashtag #DaffodilProject.

Help Us Celebrate the Daffodil Project on April 20

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Every year NY4P hosts the Daffodil Breakfast, where we honor the dedicated New Yorkers throughout the city that make the Daffodil Project such a huge success - and this year we’re also celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Daffodil Project and the planting of our 6 millionth bulb! 2016’s honorees use the Project as a way to beautify their communities, engage disadvantaged youth, improve police-community relations, maintain neighborhood street trees, among others. All proceeds from this beautiful event support the Daffodil Project. 

The Daffodil Breakfast takes place at the Bryant Park Grill, Wednesday, April 20th, from 8:00 to 9:30. RSVP today.  

Meet A New Yorker for Parks: Heather Butts

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Every year NY4P honors the open space stewards from every borough that make the Daffodil Project such as success. This year’s Staten Island honoree is Heather Butts, co-founder of H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths, an organization dedicated to helping young students in New York equip themselves for life after high school, with an emphasis on disadvantaged youth.

One of the ways they engage young people is through community service events such as planting NY4P Daffodil Project bulbs. Heather has witnessed the positive impact this has on young people’s health and education, and on police-community relations. H.E.A.L.T.H. is a great example of how planting daffodils and watching them grow affects communities in far-reaching ways.

H.E.A.L.T.H. began community service events through a tree stewardship program with Staten Island Council Member Deborah Rose, which including weeding and gardening in tree pits. From there they began programming with police officers and young people, planting daffodils in the open space on precinct grounds in Staten Island and Brooklyn. Most recently they’ve partnered with GreenThumb to create a garden in Skyline Park in Staten Island.

“Most of our young people had no access to gardens, or didn’t know they had access,” Heather explains. “A lot had no exposure to healthy foods coming straight out of the ground.” They partnered with GreenThumb to create a garden in Skyline Playground in Staten Island, with their first harvest in fall 2015. “To see the look on young faces the first time they pull a beet out of the ground, and see food that isn’t processed – it’s overwhelming to them. A lot live in areas that are close to being food deserts. They don’t relate to fresh produce.”

One of Heather’s most poignant experiences is working with young people at the 120th Precinct in Staten Island, where they planted the most daffodils. “Some of our students are court-involved and have had dealings with officers. Sometimes these are the very same officers that they garden with a few days later. We get to see this relationships grow and build in a way that wouldn't’t otherwise. Gardening is very non-threatening; it’s a very peaceful endeavor. Our students will say things like, ‘I haven’t really had any relationship with police officers, and this gives me a chance to do it in a way that’s positive.”

Heather has witnessed the relationship of their students to the local officers change in a dramatic way. “At the 120th Precinct, the kids are now so comfortable that they just walk right in. To see a black kid walk in like it’s his school or his house, and strike up a friendly conversation with the officers, it makes your mouth drop on the floor a bit.”

The precinct garden faces the ferry landing, and is one of the first things people see when they’re leaving the terminal. Before they started working there it was just dirt. Heather has witnessed that every year the daffodils transform the space, and make it more welcoming. “We get comments all the time about how beautiful it is. And since we have the H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths sign there, people are getting to know us.”

Going forward, Heather is expanding their work to include the intersection of open space with culture, arts, and literacy, an opportunity she sees as “limitless.” They’ve worked with New York Restoration Project in their Riley-Levin Children’s Garden in Inwood, where they hosted a student play and a spoken word event. They’ve put up little free libraries in 5 locations, and are hosting art shows, read-alouds, chamber music, and the like. They’re hosting a recipe swap day, where students will bring in their healthy food recipes and submit them to Michelle Obama’s MyPlate program. Through their programming they hope to make the parks and gardens more accessible and relatable for young people.

When asked if she has any input for other folks interested in engaging youth and students in open space stewardship, she offers three pieces advice: First, have an honest conversation with the young people you’re working with about what they’re interested in, and be open to it. Don't assume that your interests will be the same. Second, be creative, and figure out ways to positively engage with youth. Third, tie what you’re doing to something that’s related to their academic life. It helps keep them engaged in their learning.

In addition to the many hours of work Heather dedicates to HEALTH for Youths, she is also a professor at Columbia University, and a Regulatory Specialist with their Medical Center. She holds four degrees, including a Juris Doctor from St. John’s University, and a Master of Public Health from Columbia. Because of her dedication to open space and young people, we are very proud to honor her at this year’s Daffodil Breakfast.

NY4P Testifies on the Preliminary Parks Budget

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Today NY4P advocated for a better parks budget in our testimony to the New York City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation at their hearing on the fiscal year 2017 preliminary budget. While we are encouraged by the Parks Department's efforts at becoming more efficient, innovative, resourceful and caring, the department still isn’t fully funded. The city cannot care for our parks if the department doesn’t have sufficient resources. Our testimony asks for an improved expense budget that will create jobs and support organizations empowering local-level stewardship. We ask for a capital budget that will continue to work toward equity in our parks system by funding improvements in “anchor” parks in low-income communities, along with other funding that will allow the department to be more adept at responding to the needs of parks-users. Read and download our full testimony here.

How's Your Park, NYC? Citywide Meeting

Friday, February 26, 2016

After great meetings in each borough, NY4P is bringing How’s Your Park, NYC? citywide! Each borough had a unique story, but shared an overarching theme – lack of funding.  At this meeting we’ll present our draft city budget recommendations, based on what Mayor de Blasio released in his preliminary budget. With the input of attendees we’ll identify and prioritize budget requests that we’d like to see addressed in the final city budget in June. Together we’ll build a strong, unified voice for all open space in NYC! Learn more and register here.

In Memoriam: Anthony Marraccini: Seaside Wildlife Nature Park, Staten Island

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Anthony Marraccini was a parks advocate, community leader, entrepreneur, World War II veteran, and the uncle of NY4P’s Senior Development Associate, Julia Marra. Like Julia, he was a lifelong Staten Islander.

Julia remembers her uncle Tony as someone who was always offering her and other members of his family entrepreneurial advice. “He was always trying to get people to be really involved,” Julia recalls. “He was trying to get people to think of new ideas, and actually carry them out the way he did with the park.”

“The park” is the Seaside Wildlife Nature Park, which Anthony created from an abandoned, trash-filled lot in Staten Island. Located on the waterfront with views of the Great Kills Harbor, it’s not hard to imagine the potential Anthony saw in the neglected land.

In 1994 Anthony founded Turnaround Friends Inc., an organization whose website describes an ambitious and community-focused mission:  

Turnaround Friends Inc. is a nonprofit organization whose fundamental mission is to identify degraded or abandoned properties and to work cooperatively with others to form a "turnaround" plan to transform the negative conditions into a source of pride and an asset to the community. The goal and reasoning behind the mission is that a community’s social, environmental and economic conditions are significantly improved if its surroundings are enhanced with beauty, order and quality of life.

With TFI, Anthony initiated the process of turning the neglected land it into usable space. He rallied the community, organized volunteers, provided supplies and oversaw the entire process.

In 2008, after many years of hard work, the now clean and usable space became the Seaside Wildlife Nature Park, a part of the New York City parks system. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe called it “one of the most beautiful parks in the City of New York.”

In June of 2015 the park was voted the best playground in Staten Island by readers of the SI Advance. Nicknamed “Pirate Park” for the large pirate ship replica, it also includes a Staten Island Ferry replica, water features and a sandbox. The park is landscaped with native seaside and salt marsh plants, and borders are edged with natural wood rails and nautical themed fences.

In addition to preserving open space and community-building, Anthony devoted many years during his retirement volunteering with the SCORE Association on Staten Island. As a retired business executive he mentored new and established small businesses, helping others to follow their dreams. In 2013 he received special recognition at the Staten Island NFP Association Community Service Awards program, recognizing leaders in Staten Island’s not-for-profit community.

Anthony passed away in December of 2015. He is survived by four children and eight grandchildren, and by his beautiful park. 

Tupper Thomas to Retire from NY4P

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

On February 2nd, 2016, Tupper Thomas, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Parks, announced her intention to retire in the coming months. She believes that finding the "perfect" Executive Director to replace her is her last key priority here, and is working with the NY4P board to recruit the best person to take on the position. Read her letter, below, to learn about her work with NY4P, and what she sees as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing New York City parks and open space going forward.

Dear Friends,

Two years ago, I came out of retirement to take on the Executive Director role at New Yorkers for Parks.  As many of you know, I agreed to lead the organization for a finite period of time, so that we might maintain the momentum of this important – in fact essential – civic organization.  I’m very proud of the work we have accomplished these past two years, and I am grateful for our staffs who have worked tirelessly to fight with me for our city’s parks and open spaces.

Now I believe the time has come to think about the long-term future of NY4P, and with that, to find a great leader to capably take the organization into its next chapter.  While I intend to retire in the coming months, I believe that identifying the perfect Executive Director is the last key priority to complete my tenure here.  Thus, I will be very involved in making sure that we recruit the best person to continue the great work that has become the hallmark of our brand.

The Board and I have created a Search Committee, and we have begun to discuss the ideal characteristics that we should be seeking in a leader. We will soon be posting a description of the position and role, and encourage you to engage with us as we look for our next leader.

We have laid the ground work – through solid and credible research, effective advocacy, and broad-based community-building – to have even greater impact on the future direction of New York City.  Amid a stream of special interests and other considerations, it is a constant battle to make the case that parks and open space are critical for a thriving urban environment.  The reason I took the job is the same reason we must sustain our efforts: this organization is the only voice for the 100% of New Yorkers who use and benefit from our parks and open spaces across all five boroughs.

The city is changing.  Increased density and a housing crisis puts pressure on our few public spaces.  However, if we want to remain the best city in the world – attracting talent, ensuring safety and health, and providing a high quality of life – we have to prioritize open space. To meet the challenges of inequality, we must ensure that all parks in all neighborhoods are great! I think we have a rare opportunity to not only make that case stronger than it has ever been made before, but also to garner the public will to do something about it.  I’m honored that I will always be a part of the legacy of this great institution, and I’m excited to be in a position to help shape its future.

Thank you, as always, for all of your support and encouragement.



NY4P Op-Ed in Daily News: We Need Answers to City's Carriage Horse Proposal

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Today the Daily News published an op-ed by Tupper Thomas outlining the reasons why the mayor and the City Council's proposal to move carriage horses into Central Park requires a more thoughtful review by the city. The citizens of New York need to be given the opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns about how this will impact "the most important open space in New York City, and the grandmother of all city parks in the United States." Read the entire op-ed here.

Meet a New Yorker for Parks: Michael Marino

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

“I feel most proud and excited when I see our diverse community coming together in our park, working toward a common goal. Our unofficial motto is, ‘Even if you’ve only got 20 minutes, you can help your park.’”

Michael Marino had no intention of starting a friends group when he decided that something needed to be done for his neighborhood park, but within the span of one month that’s just what happened. He had his first meeting with park officials and advocates in September of 2014, and two months later Corlears Hook Park had its first community park clean-up, followed by another impromptu day of raking leaves over 2014’s Thanksgiving weekend. Now he has engaged over 100 local community members, received over $6000 in grants, raised over $2000 through online fundraising, and is in the process of creating a more formalized leadership for Friends of Corlears Hook Park. And it all started because of foster dogs.

A long-time New Yorker, Michael moved next to Corlears Hook Park in the Lower East Side in 2012. When he began fostering dogs a year later, he started going to the park almost every day.  Corlears Hook Park’s dog runs – the only ones available south of Tompkins Square Park on the east side – were in poor condition.

“The community couldn’t really use them,” he recalls. “Both runs were very dirty, dirt and mud would get on the dogs. The runs would flood when it rained, the gates weren’t secure, and instead of fencing the small dog run only had chicken wire.”

That’s also when he began to notice other problems. Eight lamps were out, making the park feel unsafe and uninviting at night. The turf field was frequently used for baseball and soccer games, but the comfort station hadn’t been open for almost two decades. Kids and sometimes even adults were going to the bathroom in the bushes. “That’s when I really felt that something had to be done,” he explains.

Michael contacted State Senator Daniel Squadron’s office to find out if there were any friends groups active in the park. None existed, but the senator’s office offered to help him start one. They organized a call with Partnerships for Parks coordinator Kirsti Bambridge and other friends groups to give him guidance on how to get his budding organization off the ground. The recently-created NYC Bark Club had been working with the park manager on fixing up the dog runs, so Michael also began working with them.

He went on a walk-through of the park with the Corlears Hook park manager, his Partnerships for Parks Coordinator, concerned community members, and Community Board 3 manager Susan Stetzer, and they came up with a list of priority projects for the park.

Early successes were small but noticeable. The broken street lamps were fixed and new trees were planted to replace the dozens lost due to Hurricane Sandy. The first few clean-up events drew small numbers at first, but people’s enthusiasm for the projects demonstrated both the necessity of this work and the park’s untapped potential.

Friends of Corlears Hook Park (FoCHP) continued to host ‘It’s My ParkDay’ events throughout 2015. A spring event combined park clean-up with family-fun activities such as games, face painting, and bubble experiments. For weeks after that event parents would stop Michael on the street and ask when they were having another. In early fall, FoCHP received daffodil bulbs from New Yorkers for Parks, and planted them with help from NY4P and volunteers from the Nathan Cummings Foundation. They also partnered with CITYarts, BlackRock, Henry Street Settlement Expanded Horizons College Success Program, and the Chinatown YMCA at Two Bridges Community Center to scrape down and repaint a peeling retaining wall around the park’s playground. Drawing from local Girl Scout troops and volunteer organizations at New York City high schools and colleges, FoCHP hosted their most successful event yet.  Over 80 volunteers showing up to help plant new garden beds at all of the park’s entryways.

Sometimes people stumble upon FoCHP events, turning an impromptu moment of interest and inspiration into engaging work. Michael remembers when an elderly woman walking through the park during a clean-up day approached a volunteer trimming rose bushes. “The woman didn’t speak much English, but the volunteer handed her the pruning shears and showed her how to trim down the branches and clip a few roses. (She) smiled from ear to ear.”

In addition to doing hands-on work in the park, Michael works with advocacy organizations and elected officials to get much-needed funding for the park. Guided by other friends groups and Partnerships for Parks, he had a meeting with Council Member Rosie Mendez and managed to get $250,000 to refurbish of the dog runs. He also worked with the Parks Department and elected officials to get the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to commit money towards fixing and reopening the comfort station. Until that money comes through they’re using a port-a-potty. “It finally happened,” he explains, “after I complained enough and showed the Parks Department enough disgusting photos.”

That’s not the only time Michael’s tenacity paid off. Michael describes the recent process he went through to get funding for refurbishment of the playground, water feature, and basketball court in the park onto Community Board 3’s budget priority list. “I had to go to three different community board meetings where I made the same pitch and said the same thing every time. And I wondered if it was really worth it. But then at the last meeting, I was one of the only parks group representatives there, and I think that’s why I was able to keep my project high on the priority list to hopefully qualify for funding. ”

The biggest frustration of the whole process has been dealing with slow-moving bureaucracy of government, something all advocates can relate to. “The Parks Department is so underfunded and staff is stretched so thin that decision making takes a lot longer than you want. Because we are an all-volunteer group, with full-time jobs, sometimes we can’t wait for a week or two weeks to get an answer.”

Going forward, Michael wants to bring more active programming to the park. Most of the buildings in the neighborhoods have courtyards and gardens, and residents see those as their open space. So to encourage people to engage with the park, he’s working on bringing more events and programs to the park.

Most of the foot traffic in the park is from people going to and from East River Park, and many visitors don’t even realize that it’s a separate park. He wants to give Corlears Hook Park its own identity. There’s something in the park for everyone – benches for seniors, a playground for little kids, a water feature for cooling off on hot summer days, a field for organized games, dog runs, and of course the green space that’s so vital to New York City. Because of the dedication of Michael and the many other volunteers, Corlears Hook Park is becoming a destination in its own right. 

Through all his many successes, and the frustrations, Michael has many lessons to share on how to start and sustain a successful friends-of group:

  • Make sure to involve the community board from the beginning. He didn’t have them on that very first call with Partnerships for Parks, and they were upset, although that didn’t stop the community board from working with them going forward.
  • Work with your neighbors. The East River Houses, a private co-op development adjacent to the park, let them borrow tables and chairs to use at their events in the park. The Vladeck Houses, another neighboring NYCHA development, has hosted FoCHP meetings in their community room and actively promotes their events to tenants.
  • Be persistent. Michael went to three community board meetings before he was able to get funding. He kept asking the Parks Department to address the comfort station, and even showed them pictures to demonstrate the need.
  • Reach out to companies that have an interest in improving the park. Michael reached out to agents at Halstead Realty who list many apartments in building’s neighboring the park. Halstead recognized the benefit the improved park would bring to their sales and donated money for food and drinks for the volunteers at the clean-up events.
  • Empower your volunteers, don’t micro-manage.  Michael invites volunteers to choose projects that they care about, and he gives them ownership of those projects and pride in the outcome. He makes sure to have projects that will appeal to all level of skill and ability.
  • Get to know and reach out to members of your community. Girls Scouts helped at the spring and fall ‘It’s My Park Day’ events, because one of the community members is a troop leader.
  • Consider your local and surrounding communities. Prior to their ‘It’s My Park Day’ event, all the FoCHP events had been on Saturdays. A young woman studying horticulture came to an event that was held on a Sunday, and explained that she had never been to any prior events because she’s an observant Jew. So now Michael makes sure to always alternate between Saturday and Sunday events.
  • Remember that the park is an amenity for the entire community. Especially if the work feels overwhelming, remember that people want to see it improve and will be grateful for your work.