The power local citizens can have in shaping livable communities through engagement and investment in local parks is incredible. One important model in developing community ownership over our public spaces is through the creation of a park “friends group.” Friends groups are generally formed by a group of citizens with common interests in the stewardship of a local park. Their activities can range from fundraising and volunteer work to significant operational support.Image credit J. Avery Wham Photography
Friends groups form because people care. They are able to bring forth a voice of the community that is not tied to local politics or government — pushing forward issues that may not be possible from within the agency.
Ready to start a friends group in your community? Here are some tips to help you get started!1) Invite Others to Join the Cause
Image credit Ian MacLellan2) Set Your Goals
- Create a Core Group In the early stages, most of the work of establishing a park “friends group” is done by a handful of dedicated people. This group should reflect the diversity of the community, meet often to do the real organizing, then report on their progress and get feedback from stakeholders.
- Hold a General Interest Meeting In order to find people who care about the park, schedule a meeting in a public place, invite everyone you know, post flyers all over your neighborhood, including neighborhood newsletters. Use the meeting as an open forum to discuss the park and what people want done there.
- Keep on Recruiting Take every opportunity to bring more people into both the general and the core group. There’s power in numbers.
3) Introduce Yourself
- Decide as a Group Decide together what “helping the park” means. If you set the goals alone, you might leave something out important to someone else.
- Be Realistic You can’t completely renovate your playground next week, but you can host a workday. Start small and build, otherwise you’ll get frustrated and burn out.
- Be Specific If you clearly define your mission it will be easier to convince others to help you because they’ll know exactly what you’re about.
Image credit Jorge RivasAdditional ResourcesNRPA: Park Advocate HandbookNRPA: Friends Groups: People with Passion for ParksThe National Association of Park Foundations: What is an Optimally-Functioning Friends Group or Park Foundation?Baltimore City Recreation and Parks Baltimore Park Friends Group Manual
- Contact Important People Make sure to let everyone know about your group—local elected officials, the deli across the street, and others. Before people can help you, they have to know who you are.
- Meet the Parks Department From the very beginning, you should be in close contact with your Parks and Recreation Department contact, such as the manager responsible for the park, program, or facility.
- Host a Visible Event Holding a visible event gives you legitimacy. Host an event in the park (family picnic, workday) and advertise everywhere. Make sure to have a table at the event for recruiting new members and talking about the group.
- Network Everybody knows somebody who can help, whether it’s a lawyer who can help you fill out IRS forms, an artist who designs posters, or an old friend of a local elected official. Different people have different skills and connections, and you need them all.