One of the city’s largest, full-day volunteer opportunities has grown to be so popular that it expanded to twice a year. It’s My Park Day allows the people who use their neighborhood parks to lead maintenance and renovation projects as while also enlisting people from across the city to pitch in. In all, It’s My Park Day on November 2 will put more than 3,000 volunteers to work on 80 park projects.
Along with the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation department, nonprofit organizations like Austin Parks Foundation support and care for the city’s 300 parks. For more than 15 years, Austin Parks Foundation has organized an annual It’s My Park Day to mobilize thousands of volunteers across the city. Two years ago, the popularity of the volunteering day prompted Austin Parks Foundation to offer it in the fall as well as spring.
“It’s My Park Day had grown so much, the biggest one included 116 projects, which is great but also really hard to support with a small organization,” said Kathleen Barron, senior programs manager for Austin Parks Foundation. “There was obviously a desire from people to do more projects in their parks,” so in 2017, the event was expanded to twice a year.
“In 2019, we will complete the most large-scale renovation projects APF has ever done in a single year:, said Colin Wallis, CEO of Austin Parks Foundation. “Days like It’s My Park Day help make these projects possible by freeing up time and money that would normally be spent on basic up-keep.”
At It’s My Park Day this past March, volunteers contributed hundreds of hours of work worth more than $200,000 worth of labor, said the Austin Parks Foundation. Barron says the projects that day are selected by weighing the city’s priorities for that park along with the neighborhood’s. “We really do depend on the neighborhoods that use these parks,” said Barron. “There’s a huge backlog of projects that the city can’t address. We have about 300 parks but the city doesn’t have enough budget or staff to care for them.”
Austin Parks Foundation provides training and support so that volunteers can lead projects and also to become advocates and spokespersons for the park. Volunteers have spoken at city council meetings and have represented Austin Parks Foundation at community festivals. Barron says creating park advocates out of volunteers also encourages volunteers to take the initiative. For example, It’s My Park Day asks volunteers to bring their own equipment, and one of the most useful tools has been the sleds for transporting mulch. When she tried to purchase more of the mulch sleds, she found out that the sleds had been created and built by volunteers. “I assumed they were bought off the shelf, but they are an invention of some of our most creative volunteers,” said Barron. Now they purchase the materials and ask a local Boy Scout troop to build them.
“It’s My Park Day is so popular because it’s really gratifying work,” said Barron. “And there’s something for everyone to do at any ability level.”