No, this is not in my yard. But it is my community and I am one lucky girl. Charleston has over 120 parks and one day, in the midst of renovating our home, I decided to get out of the chaos and go work in the dirt.
How many times, as a visitor or resident, have you walked by a Charleston park, in full bloom, weed free and marveled at Charleston’s public gardens? Well, let me tell you, this stuff doesn’t just happen. Most of the work is done by Park Angels and they don’t call them Park Angels for nothing. When I realized we would be living downtown (for real) and the renovation project was not a pipe dream, I went online and became a Park Angel, just like that. Fortunately, I knew a little something about Charleston Parks, even though I knew nothing about Park Angels.
I grew up going to Hampton Park and playing there as a child, visiting the zoo, and later in life, doing a drive by in the spring to see the azaleas in full bloom. Allen Park, located off Ashley Avenue near Hampton Park, was a favorite of Daddy’s. It was also on our list of drive by places and when the Charleston Parks Conservancy renovated and rededicated Allen Park in 2012, Daddy was front and center at the event. My Daddy’s love of camellias and gardening kept me in a state of constant yet distant appreciation. And while my only true gardening skill was taking direction from him (free labor) – I didn’t know when to plant, when to fertilize, when to prune – I was a willing and able body that wanted to work in the Parks and learn about the cycles of gardening.
The Charleston Parks Conservancy is a non-profit organization in partnership with the City of Charleston, other like minded organizations and people who work, play and live around our parks. And the Charleston Park Angels are the engine that keeps our Parks so beautiful! The Conservancy has wonderful, talented staff that guide the organization and have managed to recruit and retain over 1000 volunteers that nurture and care for our Charleston Parks. Just recently, with the renovation of Colonial Lake, over 500 active volunteers planted over 20,000 plants in a 6 week period. This stuff doesn’t just happen.
The goal of the Park Angels is simple: to connect people with their parks. To steal a quote from their website:
“The Park Angels are doers, promoters, supporters; the faces of the Charleston Parks Conservancy who take a special interest and ownership in their parks and all of Charleston’s city parks. They are joggers, dog owners, bloggers, organizers, neighbors… they are you!”
I recently had the opportunity to spend quality time with Fran Hummel. She is one of the original Park Angels and the co-chairs of the Teddy Bear Picnic, held each March as a FREE event in Hampton Park to specifically connect children with the Parks. When Fran first became a Park Angel, she literally drove around Charleston identifying all the Parks. The first renovation started with South Windemere and they have actively been planting and beautifying over 25 parks since the Conservancy’s inception. She is also involved in one of three Community Gardens which last year donated over 2079 pounds of fresh vegetables to the Lowcountry Food Bank. This stuff doesn’t just happen.
Neves Richards, Volunteer and Community Events Director, is key to the success of the volunteer program. She calls it no judgement volunteering. Just come help, do what you can, anything is appreciated. And she is passionate about the Parks. “Every big decision I have made in my life has been on a park bench,” Neves shared. Our connection to our Parks gives us a sense of community.
And this has been the case for me. I proudly participated in the planting of 20,000 plants on Colonial Lake. I have met wonderful people who care about their community and who want a pretty park to walk their dogs, to meet their friends, to take their children to play. I have been most thankful for this opportunity and for the grateful people who have thanked us while we plant and when they see us on the street in our worn volunteer t-shirts. And it may not be easy to find the time, but I hope you will. There were days when I was digging a hole for a new planting and paying someone to dig a hole at my house for a new planting. And it was worth every penny.
Each of us have a special Park that means something to us. It might me a block from your home, near the hospital to give you reprieve from a challenging moment, on the way to work or school, or near your grandmother’s house. But we all have at least one Park that means something to us. Imagine we all chipped in and helped support that one Park. Imagine the connection we will find, in friends, neighbors and our community.
This stuff doesn’t just happen.