BY Sara Martinez (@Saritology)
On Saturday, April 21st, while some of you were still sound asleep (or on your way home after a good ol’ fashioned walk of shame) some amazing New Yorkers were in parks all over the city volunteering for New York Cares Day!
Organized by New York Cares, New York Cares Day happens every April, just in time to prepare the city’s parks for our summertime fun! New York Cares was founded in the late 1980’s by a group of friends who wanted to help our city but found volunteer opportunities scarce or not easy to find. New York Cares is now the city’s largest volunteer organization with active projects all of the 5 boroughs.
This year I committed to completing 25 hours of volunteer service by December 31st. Kicking off my commitment with New York Cares Day would be the jump start I needed. A friend invited me to join her company’s team at their assigned location in Fort Tryon Park. Score! Sprucing up one of my favorite parks on a beautiful day and with friends, kismet at its finest!
We started our morning by meeting at 8:30am at the Park View Restaurant, a diner across the street from the Dyckman Street entrance of Fort Tryon Park. After some eggs over easy, and a cup of coffee, we were ready to go. We crossed the street and were greeted by approximately 100 volunteers. Some were wearing blue t-shirts from their corporate sponsors, but most wore pea cocking in the crisp white New York Cares Day volunteer shirts.
After registration we were given instructions: “don’t pick up condoms,” (gross you may say but I say yay because people are having protected sex. I just wish they use one of the trash receptacles conveniently located throughout the park), and “if you don’t know what to do, ask someone.” Sounds simple enough. We were then divided into groups; I raised my left hand and pointed to myself with my right yelling, “pick me! Pick me!” and was assigned the most coveted job of all: painting benches. After more instructions: “leaves of 3 let it be!” (no poison ivy for me!) We were put to work in groups of 5 to clean, scrape and paint the benches.
On our hands and knees, after spending at least 40 hours a week sitting at a desk, and using paint to help prevent weathering in the very special color of Central Park Green, we made each bench look brand new. Now, I’m sure that everyone worked hard, and I let them finish and all, but our team was pretty much the best one out there. Things got intense, I was yelled at by one of my teammates for not cleaning the bottom of the bench to their [thorough] standards, “but those cobwebs were extra tough!” I said in my defense, “Gorilla glue tough even,” but they were right and I needed to work harder.
After completing, what felt like 30 benches but was probably much less, we took a short break and walked around the park to catch our fellow New Yorkers who care in action. Shearing bushes and trees, clearing the staircases and walkways for easier access, picking up cigarette butts from the grass; removing trees – yes, trees! Maple trees are resilient and will grow wherever they please. They are rebels, with sweet delicious sap, that need to be controlled. With rows of black garbage bags, their dedication on display, it was hard not to feel proud of all the work that was being done.
So while you’re picnicking with friends, sitting on a park bench cuddling with your love, walking your dog in the park or pushing your niece on a swing, remember to thank the 5000 New York Cares volunteers who helped to make our green spaces easier to enjoy. Thank you to New York Cares for organizing this massive effort, and giving me the opportunity to give some TLC to one of my favorite New York City parks.