The Sara Roosevelt Park Community Coalition (SRPCC) brings together local stakeholders who seek to foster community-based stewardship by providing a voice for all who love the park and the communities it serves. With community input, we solve problems, offer positive solutions, and preserve the vital role the park plays in our lives.
“Protecting and improving the community for the people who live and work here”
Working for Sara Roosevelt Park
This lays out some of the history, partnerships, current guidelines and lessons learned from over four decades of effort in the Park.
As our name says, we are a coalition: a temporary alliance of distinct people/organizations for joint action. We are an all-volunteer organization in a low-income community (no infrastructure funding) that supports the mission of the Sara Roosevelt Park Community Coalition.
Our ethos is that community stewardship of green spaces makes our park better cared for, helps Parks do their job, reminds people that it is their park, allows for the uniqueness of our gardens that only the individual minds of their stewards fosters, and well-serves all park-going visitors.
It is similar with any projects proposed here.
It matters, especially in these times, that people in a neighborhood feel there is something they have say over and that we work to back up that ‘privilege’ with our sweat, expertise, volunteer hours and consistent efforts.
As local residents, businesses, non-profits, volunteers and gardeners we are proudly a public park. We welcome all with the understanding that we have local needs and wider city needs to share this space with. Local needs must be taken into account along with sharing resources city-wide.
The Sara Roosevelt Park Community Coalition (SRPCC) intends to work in coordination with Park’s staff, the police, Park’s Enforcement, elected representatives and the neighborhood. Our goal is to make the park safe, enjoyable, eco-friendly, responsive to and respectful of the diverse needs of the local community and welcoming to all visitors. We work to have it be a human, bird and wildlife friendly place of respite as well as a beautiful garden-filled place.
Participation is based on interest, mission, ability to lend needed resources or expertise, commitment to equity, support for the SRPCC mission and guidelines (including Parks rules and regulations) and commitment to a public, not privatized, park. In particular, local in-park outreach is vital to ensure all the voices of those most impacted (whether ‘grandfathered’ use or local neighborhood) are valued and taken into account.
Organizational membership, as well as individual involvement, as part of the Coalition means assuming, openly or tacitly, the basic Mission/Guidelines https://sdrpc.mkgarden.org/guidelines/. Involvement can be temporary or long-term or periodic, can be informal or contractual or lasting for the duration of a grant and does not supersede an organization’s own mission, governance, etc. We maintain independence.
Most individual involvement is through volunteering to tend plots, build gardens and care for open spaces. Sometimes it involves offering resources to people in these neighborhoods (housed or unhoused).
Our larger goals often take the form of Task Forces, Ad Hoc committees or Garden Volunteer Groups in order to enlist organizations to help gather resources, proposals, advocacy agendas, next steps for an area of the Park that are: informed, feasible, equitable, show commitment to and are reflective of the needs of the nearby neighborhood and welcoming to the larger park-going public.
And then, after in-park community engagement, we advocate for proposals with the Parks Department, elected representatives, police, anyone we need to.
Often, we create a ‘draft mission statement’ for new larger projects, in order to keep the focus and our roles as clear as possible (statement may change as we get more information). As with STF sometimes we spend years gathering the wishes of the impacted neighborhood, learning technical data, inviting experts to widen our imaginations, enlisting the thinking of/advocating for the nearby community, and since we are a public park, also advocating for the park as a wider city resource.
‘Active’ member organizations/individuals involvement may change depending on their capacity, on current challenges, a project’s need for specific expertise or resources, or completion of a project.
We welcome volunteers to join these efforts. This ‘policy statement’ is intended for anyone who is interested in the care of Sara Roosevelt Park and in joining the larger community in helping.
We do not claim to speak for everyone in this park – we do make every effort to learn what are the needs and wishes of our neighbors and work to support those voices and to be a resource for advocacy here.
History of Community Care of Sara Roosevelt Park
The neighborhood surrounding this park has a long history of protecting and caring for this park.
We garden in here because members of the Roosevelt Park Community Coalition fought to reclaim it after the city, including the Parks Department, abandoned it during NYC’s economic struggles of the 70’s and 80’s.
During that time, drug dealers and pimps ruled this place, young women were forcibly addicted and sex trafficked on its streets. Burned out buildings and empty lots lined its borders. It was filled with legions of rats and garbage. It had hidden sunken places, boarded up park houses, gang fights and a murdered child. That was our park.
Neighbors risked their lives to reclaim the park for children. People like Bob Humber, Thelma Pridgen, Bud Shalala, Lee Brozgold, Kate Fitzgerald, The Hua Mei Bird owners, Federico Savini and Anna Magenta, Betty and Joe Hubbard, Jim Pender, and nameless others started leagues for teens, patrolled the perimeter, cleared trash, designed playgrounds, tended the green spaces up and down the park, worked with local politicians and the police, established M’Finda Garden as one ‘beachhead’ and the “Forsyth Conservancy” (including the Hua Mai Bird Sanctuary) as another, and opened the Golden Age Center for homeless elders (now BRC senior nutrition center).
While the NYC Parks Department is ultimately responsible for the entire park, due to all that effort, risk and care we tend to feel proprietary over the entire park (rightly so).
Recent History: Gardens
Happily, Parks Department returned (and feeling a bit proprietary themselves).
Former Manhattan Parks Commissioner Castro instituted monthly meetings with the Coalition and other stakeholders – cooperation as the goal. We look forward to setting up a regular means of open communication and cooperation with our current Manhattan Parks Commissioner Anthony Perez!
Many members of our community volunteer large amounts of time and effort to work alongside the Parks Department to see to the care of garden spaces – and all our public spaces and resources.
Jamil Phillips our current Park manager (and before him Terese Flores) understands and values our role and is grateful for the help. In turn, we value his role and are grateful for his work, his help, guidance and cooperation.
Sometimes we have Park Staff who don’t know our history and also feel (rightly so) that they have a job to do.
Gardening in SDR Park
Planting in the “GreenThumb Garden” site. For more information on GreenThumb: https://greenthumb.nycgovparks.org/
M’Finda Kalunga Garden (MKG) is currently the only officially recognized GreenThumb Garden in Sara Roosevelt Park (the Forsyth Garden Conservancy/Hua Mei Bird Sanctuary also was an official GreenThumb Garden, but despite our efforts is no longer recognized as such – we may work to get GreenThumb status returned to those gardens and perhaps other gardens here.
The efforts of the volunteers at MKG of four decades gives this garden access to the resources of GreenThumb and its network of other community gardens. It also gives a large measure of independence and protection. Its high fencing also provides a crucial safeguard to both plants and people in a densely lush space.
MKG also provides senior protected space during the weekdays. Open to the general public on weekends and on evenings (contact MKG for up-to-date information: https://www.mkgarden.org/contact-us/ )
The MKG has its own structure and by-laws. And…this garden must also follow Parks Department and GreenThumb regulations!
The MKG is the “mothership” garden. The SDR Park Coalition purchases tools that are stored here to work on neglected plots in the Park. We share resources with all the gardens.
If you’d like to help out in this park, we highly recommend learning through the more structured help of the MKG, or by working with one of the stewards below or coming to an It’s My Park Day as a starting point.
Planting in parts of the park that are not “GreenThumb” sites.
All other park plots have a less protected status. They also tend to have low fences or no fences surrounding them. It requires a different level of work and commitment.
Stewarding a Plot
Garden stewards are those who have had tacit, grandfathered and/or overt permission in the past or permission in the present by a Park’s manager. It is a very large commitment of time and energy. [All the volunteer stewards in this park are listed below].
Stewarding means you keep garbage and weeds out [to the very best of your ability –given the current situation here and regular public use], trees and bushes pruned, plantings watered and tended on a regular, steady basis. We may be asked by the police, PEP or the Park’s Manager to prune or remove foliage to create sight lines into the park. This is important for the safety of the public.
We advocate for organizations (or individuals who have the capability) to steward neglected plots. We try to invite only those who have shown ability and commitment to do that work. When we have such people/organizations we can have a lush garden (like the Betty Hubbard garden).
We offer likely stewards a chance. Some will slowly find their way, adding complexity as they gain experience, information and helpers.
If we, or they, find they can’t do this large task it reverts back to a more ‘barren’ landscape of woodchips and far less foliage in order to realistically maintain it.
We are a public park. This means when you plant anything here it belongs to the park and though we will work to guard against it, there is always the possibility that what you plant will be ruined, picked, or taken. (there are large fines for anyone caught doing that however!)
Neglected Plots without Stewards
This Park needs massive help in places.
Plots without stewards are subject to Park’s staff and/or some of our Coalition’s large “one-time” volunteer efforts.
In those areas where we don’t have a committed steward, we use wood chips over much of the grounds, prune trees and bushes “up” (so Parks, the police & PEP can see in), and we only do minimal planting – as Park Managers have always requested.
We do this in part as a courtesy to Park’s workers who can’t easily clean plots that have dense foliage with hidden rat burrows, needles, garbage, homeless folk’s storage, and human feces.
Park’s Department staff may not have the training, nor the time, to protect individual plantings in those un-stewarded plots.
Neither will volunteers who come in large numbers to do the grunt work of cleaning, weeding, mulching, and wood-chipping neglected areas. They will not be deft (and neither will we at times) when trying to do the huge clean up jobs – we ask for yellow tape around plants we are trying to preserve – and still – there are no guarantees.
For the last three years we do not have a Park’s Department Gardener to advise us. We do however have the expertise of many expert (even distinguished) gardeners here – who are generous with their time and advice.
Planting in “non-GreenThumb” Plots
We understand that it feels good to plant. But planting requires a commitment to a lot of consistent grunt work for the entire plot. If you are not the responsible steward(s) of a plot – you can’t be the one deciding what is planted. Committing to plots we undertake to steward helps maintain our viability as gardeners here.
We don’t plant trees in plots because: 1) it’s a very big commitment to the future of a space, 2) we already have too many large trees in these plots, 3) there may be too much shading already in an area for other plant growth and trees tend to suck up all the moisture, and 4) Parks doesn’t allow it.
Tree pits are different. Requiring trees that are Park (Street trees) approved species.
Apprentice Plot Stewards or Volunteer Help in SDR
The Coalition asks anyone who wants to eventually steward a plot (outside of the M’Finda Garden or the other stewarded plots) to apprentice for a full season with Rob Watson. Rob in particular understands the extent of the commitment needed to satisfy the needs in these kinds of spaces.
Or we will put you in contact with the other gardeners with stewarded plots listed below. They can always use help.
Or we can send you to the Park’s Department Manager: volunteers are appreciated.
Stewards in SDR Park
- North End Stanton/Houston Area: Tessa, part-time, neighbor (and very skilled gardener).
- M’Finda Kalunga: Jane and Erika (the only currently authorized GreenThumb Garden in SDR Park).
- “Betty” Hubbard: Rob Watson & volunteers.
- Rivington plot: Rob, K, Rivington volunteers (East side, North of Delancey Street front plot)
- The (former) Audubon plot: K & Kate & Rob & volunteers.
- BRC building front wall plots (on either side of the door) Kate (a skilled gardener) & K.
- Former New Forsyth Conservancy: Sunflower plot, plots south of Delancey Street: K, Youth Explorers, ROAR and other volunteers.
- The Hua Mei Bird Sanctuary: the Hua Mei birders.
- Hester Street, Canal, Grand: Pam Ito “The Hort” (Horticultural Society) & Emma Lazarus HS.
- The side areas of the Broome to Grand section: Parks Department
- Outside of SDR – sister park: Pike/Allen Mall Section: Justen Ladda
We advocate to protect our ‘right’ to garden in this park.
Whatever happens in any of these plots reflects on the entire Coalition and Garden network’s efforts. Together we strengthen the “cause” of all the gardens we preserve, protect and advocate for.
If you have thoughts or suggestions contact us through the website directly. And, we can often be available in person before or after the monthly M’Finda Kalunga Garden meetings the second Sunday of the month.
Meeting Times and Membership
Yearly/Ad Hoc as needed/possible given volunteer times and the unfunded nature of this organization. Operations meetings monthly with Parks (suspended during COVID)
Various Task Forces as needed for sections – currently: Stanton Task Force, Delancey South Task Force.
Requirements for Membership:
This Coalition is entirely volunteer, loosely structured to allow for the realistic abilities and time of volunteers, a hard pressed non-profit membership and local community. We simply ask for a commitment to Sara Roosevelt Park shown in part by:
- Abiding by the guidelines of the Sara Roosevelt Park Coalition (Parks/GreenThumb).
- Consistent, ongoing commitment and work put in on behalf of a garden, a Task Force, a section of the park.
- Active community organizations that are within or surround Sara Roosevelt Park (tenant associations, small businesses, not for profits, large businesses that have an immediate stake in the Park who have accessible local representatives, who keep informed through minutes of Coalition meetings with Parks Department or through updates, contribute to and attend activities within the Park, etc.
Without informed participation members, representatives and Coalition leadership will not be able to make aware judgments on decisions.
Means of becoming a Member:
Help with the work of the park! Attend meetings, keep informed of Park issues and events by joining the mailing list to receive updates and minutes from Park Operations meetings, participate and contribute to activities and events within and for the Park or otherwise maintain an active role.
We recognize that many of our members are residents or community organizations whose primary roles in the neighborhood are already overwhelming. The Coalition’s work intends to be a seamless addition to that work, not an extra burden, but awareness of and participation in the work of fulfilling our mission is needed and required.
Structure ALL Volunteer – fluid, depending on the project:
- President: K Webster (focus: Stanton Building reclamation)
- Vice President(s): Debra Jeffreys-Glass/Jin Xiu (leave)
- Volunteer Gardener heads/ organizations): Bob Humber, Rob Watson, Tessa Huxley, Pam Ito, K Webster, Kate Fitzgerald, Jane Barrer/Erika Suban on behalf of M’Finda Garden, Hua Mei Bird group, Youth Explorers, University Settlement, Stanton Task Force, South Delancey Task Force, Keena Suh Pratt Center, Greenmap, FABnyc, etc.
- Treasurer: Debra Jeffreys-Glass
- Website Coordinator: Ted Glass
- Task Forces and Committees (as needed).
President: President for two- year terms or until project in an area is completed. Rotates to the next area set as primary goal.
- Advocacy on behalf of the Sara Roosevelt Coalition and its membership.
- Gathering the ideas of the local community (as much as possible given the volunteer/unfunded means at our disposal).
- Liaison to Parks, Partnership for Parks, DOT, Community Board 3, and other government, civic, non-profit organization, and business groups (or delegate task to a responsible member)
- Assist in making the Sara Roosevelt Coalition members aware of Parks/DOT or other government agency regulations (or delegate task to a responsible member).
- Create agendas and chair meetings (or delegate task to a responsible member).
- Consult with membership and neighborhood on issues confronting the SDR Coalition
- Encourage involvement.
- Consult with Website coordinator (or delegate task to a responsible member).
- Management of day to day business of the organization or delegate necessary tasks.
- Take required action between meetings.
- Complete current primary goal of Coalition. Train replacement as goal is achieved.
- Call meetings on ad hoc basis as needed, help create Task Forces on issues.
Vice President(s): Works with all Coalition Members and insures President is aware of issues for constituencies involved in the Park.
Treasurer: Maintains records of all fund raising monies, expenditures, periodic grants. Reports on status to the Sara Roosevelt Park Coalition. There is no funding stream at this time.
Members: Members who fulfill the requirements of membership and keep President and membership informed of their organizations needs/issues within this Park. Members act in good faith on behalf of their constituents and abide by the core mission of the Sara Roosevelt Coalition.
Website Coordinator: organizes and keeps up to date Sara Roosevelt Coalition website in consultation with the President and other officers.
Volunteer Coordinator: as needed, coordinates with Parks Department on projects on behalf of the Sara Roosevelt Park.
Committee heads: In agreement with the President and membership, every member is encouraged to take charge of some aspect of the SDR Coalitions work (assuming it doesn’t conflict with SDR Coalition guidelines or Parks Department regulations).
Committees: members are welcomed and encouraged to start or join committees to further advocacy of the Park.
Friends of SDR Park Coalition: organizations who are interested in helping with the work, but are not able to commit fully, are welcome.
How decisions are made:
- When meetings are not possible in person: membership may be asked to confer and propose decisions via email/zoom.
- In general meetings, by majority vote. No less than 10 members present and in good standing.
- Proxy voting: Written proxy on an issue is allowed from members in good standing.
Process by which by-laws are changed:
- Active members have the option to propose to alter these by-laws at any time. This assumes any changes won’t conflict with Parks regulations or conflict with the mission of the Sara Roosevelt Park Coalition.
- Changes can be made by a majority vote of active members.
- Process by which someone can be removed from the organization. A majority vote of the active members. Reasons for removal (below).
- Process by which an SDR Park Coalition member or leader can be removed: Member: The President and Vice President(s) will meet with the member at least once to assist in any difficulty. If the destructive behavior continues the President and Vice President will ask the representative of the organization or the organization (depending on circumstances) to leave. If an officer: active members will vote to remove by majority.
Reasons for removal:
- Lack of participation of Coalition members with the work of the Coalition. Members lead active community organizations and enterprises and will not be expected to attend every event or meeting, but without active participation in some form (keeping up with written minutes of meetings with Parks, participation in activities within the Park, etc) members will not be informed enough to exercise judgment on important community decisions.
- Destructive behavior towards Sara Roosevelt Park, the Coalition membership, or its leaders. Lively interaction, rigorous debate on policies and programs, disagreements or challenges on policy and constructive feedback is welcomed and encouraged, deliberate attacks on individuals, the group, or the Park are not. We will disagree at times, but our goal is to work to come to just resolutions in any conflict.
- Failure to abide by the Sara Roosevelt Park Coalition guidelines and/or Parks regulations.
Members who wish to resign from the Coalition may do so at any time.
In closing, this is a loosely structured, unpaid labor of love of decades. We do not expect perfection from ourselves or others, we do intend to encourage community to ‘own’ their neighborhood and each other – with work, commitment and care.