Meet (two) New Yorkers for Parks

Rosa and Benny Wong

September 11, 2012

Rosa and Benny Wong live just across the street from Cunningham Park in Fresh Meadows, Queens. From the second-story balcony of their house, they observe walkers and ballplayers, catch wafts from barbeques, listen to Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic concerts, and take in the July 4th fireworks show.

“After a few years of enjoying the benefits, we wanted to give back to the park,” said Benny Wong.

The Wongs, a dynamic duo of civic volunteerism, began attending meetings of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association in 2006 and soon began volunteering at events and frequenting local community board meetings. They’re indefatigable planters, cleaners and weeders, said Bob Harris, the President of the Civic Association.

“If there’s any sort of park improvement event, they’re there,” he said.

The Wongs have taken on several leadership roles in recent years within the Association. Benny, now its 3rd Vice President, has helped conduct a significant outreach campaign to local high schools and colleges and has helped sign up hundreds of student to participate in plantings and cleanups.

“Benny is always contacting the schools, keeping track of our list, and Rosa is always right there next to him with her clipboard to sign people in at every event,” Harris said.

The Wongs have seen dramatic growth in participation over the past several years. When the Civic Association began participating in Partnerships for Parks’ It’s My Park Day events in 2006, less than five volunteers showed up, but the past two years have attracted more than 125 volunteers to the biannual event, and Benny is confident that number will continue to rise.

The local community board also has the Wongs to thank. The couple worked with CB8 to establish the park’s first health fair last year, and they were there all day at the Civic Association’s fair table to distribute information about healthy living in the Fresh Meadows area. Harris cited the fair as a testament to the Wongs’ positive impact.

“Because of them, the quality of life in our neighborhood has greatly improved,” he said. “They’re a cute couple.”

And that’s the key: the Wongs are nothing if not a united team – whether they’re showing up at City Hall early on an weekday morning for an NY4P-sponsored budget rally (as they did this past spring), directing new student volunteers, weeding the park’s dog run, or driving to the store to pick up emergency water for an event.

“When either of us tries to do it on our own, we can’t do it, so we have to stick together,” Benny Wong said. “Plus, she’s a much better driver than I am.”