Hands On New York Day

7 May

On April 24th, I participated in Hands On New York Day: a citywide volunteer event organized by New York Cares. Over the course of a few hours 5,000 volunteers weeded, planted, mulched, and painted their way through 69 public spaces, revitalizing New York after a long winter to get ready for spring.

This year my team was placed in Bowne Park, located in Flushing Queens and coincidentally, across the street from my Aunt and Uncle’s house. It’s a beautiful park that spans over 11 acres, where you can find a bocce court surrounded by benches filled with old-school players, a large playground, spray shower, and basketball courts, in addition to a huge pond. In all honestly, it’s a charming park that at a glance looked like it is was in great shape and didn’t need a slew of volunteers trampling the grounds. However, after a brief rundown of what was in store for the day, we learned that there’s always room for improvement.

Arriving at 9:30am, we waited for the New York Cares bus to arrive from the city, unloading about 50 volunteers onto the scene. On the agenda was putting down mulch, raking leaves, picking up litter, and painting benches. Team Give and Get -made up of my family and friends- was able to grab the much-coveted paintbrushes and related supplies, and set out to stake our claim on a set of benches. Armed with plastic tarps and a can of ‘Central Park Green’ paint (really, thats the name of the color), we were all business. Our designated scraper cleaned any rust or bird poop off while the rest of us taped the tarp down to avoid painting things that DIDN’T need a fresh coat..you know, like the sidewalk and grass. After we prepped the area, we went to town painting those benches like nobody’s business. Our team of 8 had no problem knocking out a few sets of benches, so we took an early lunch around 12 to take a break from the sun.

After lunch we decided to try our hands at raking. Much of the easy stuff was already raked into neat piles around the park, to be picked up by the leaf vacuum later in the day, so we turned our attention to a large mass of leaves that no one had touched all morning. Soon after we started, we realized why it went untouched; this pile was about one foot deep and consisted of heavy wet leaves that quite possibly fell to the ground before I was even born. We did our best but even with shovels, it was hard to make a dent. Our efforts were further thwarted when the park site manager came over to let us know that the wet mass we were digging up would clog the vacuum and therefore needed to be bagged up by hand. By the end of the afternoon, blistered and sore, our team had done all we could and had to throw in the shovels and call it a day. You win this time, leaves…

All in all, the day was a success. The grass was cleared of debris and leaves, the benches looked shiny and new, and the smell of fresh mulch permeated the air. It truly was a great start to spring, and I’m sure that the local residents who frequent the park will appreciate the fruits of our labor.

After our day of volunteering, we took a stroll to Northern Boulevard for some Korean BBQ at one of my favorite places: KumGangSang. Along the way we marveled over beautiful gardens in the yards of almost every home we passed and ogled some enormously ornate houses. As we walked down 32nd Avenue, emerging through the trees we caught a glimpse of what looked like a  pagoda-style temple one block over. Upon further investigation, both by peering through the construction gates and online, it turns out that it is in fact a Buddhist temple being built by Korean organization Hanmaum Seon Won.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my favorite things about volunteering in NYC is that it takes me new and interesting places that I probably wouldn’t wander through otherwise. I mean, we found a guy on Main Street manning an automatic cream puff maker! Hundreds of cream puffs in minutes! Who knew?

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A special thanks to those who came out that day for Team Give and Get NYC: Amy Bogin, Dan Sussman, Ronnie Sussman, Meg Dockery, Paul Costa, Sarah Bowlin, and Zoe Schweitzer. Even though I think we’re awesome, there were about 4,992 other people volunteering that day, most of them in other parks and community spaces throughout the boroughs; to see what they were up to all day you can check out New York Cares’ blog for pictures and stories from the field.


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