Who is Care of The Park?

Pat Thomas has been a part of the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Essex program since 2014, dedicating many volunteer hours to the Care of The Park program at Essex County Branch Brook Park. A lifelong resident of Newark, Pat grew up around the park and takes every opportunity to give back as a volunteer leader with Care of the Park. Keep reading the below interview to learn more about Pat’s experience as a Master Gardener at Care of the Park.

Why do you volunteer?

“It’s been instilled in me to help others and if I can garden while helping my community than that’s even better. I saw the opportunity to give back to the park I grew up with and help people who enjoy it like I do. Even giving a few hours can be so helpful especially when the money and resources aren’t always there to do the job. I volunteer because I like helping others and the community I grew up in.”

Pat Thomas – Master Gardener

What compelled you to volunteer with Care of the Park?

“This is the park that I grew up with, played in, and always felt connected to. It’s something dear to me. I like gardening, so I joined the Master Gardeners and this opportunity just fell into my lap. It’s been great getting to work with the team and whenever I tell my friends from Newark that I volunteer at Branch Brook Park they always say ‘thank you for taking care of our park.’”

What was your favorite moment volunteering in the park?

“My favorite moment was seeing three college students who were all friends but went to different schools. They wanted to get together and decided to do that by volunteering at the park. They could have just gone to dinner but decided to spend time together while taking care of a park that they grew up around. It’s really wonderful seeing all the people coming together and making the most of the time they spend here at the park.”

What was your biggest takeaway from your volunteer experience?

“Despite all the negativity you may hear, there are so many people who are taking care of their communities. So many people come through the park and are thankful for the work that we do. And it’s wonderful to have the Essex County Parks Department and the Branch Brook Park Alliance give so much to take care of the park and the community. I love seeing the collaborative effort to give back, and volunteering has been a big part of that.”

What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about volunteering?   

“Pick something you like that is near and dear to you. Sometimes that park can be difficult and a lot of work, but when you have skills and the passion for it is always great. Just find something that you would like to do and take the time to give back.”

What does it mean to be a Rutgers Master Gardener?

“Part of being a Master Gardener is going out to different gardens and sharing what you have learned with others. We have a little expertise that we get to share and help out in a lot of different places. And we get to meet a lot of other nice people. And when people hear that I work with Care of The Park at Branch Brook Park they even say thank you and great job!”

What does Care of the Park mean to you? “Really Care of The Park is a wonderful experience. So many people come around while we’re working saying “Thank you”. They are so grateful to see so many people taking care of the park. It’s so nice seeing this feeling of ownership for the park that so many people grew up with, played in, and would drive through as a shortcut. And you have so many different people from corporations or schools, so many people from different backgrounds. It really is a collaborative effort.”

Planting Seeds of Hope

At Plant It Forward in Newark, Planting Seeds of Hope is working hard to provide community food access as well as increasing both economic and educational opportunities for local residents. In the heart of Newark’s South Ward, Emilio and his team are working tirelessly to provide fresh and healthy food to the local community and are dedicated to empowering local residents to take back control of their local food system and health.

Planting Seeds of Hope is more than just planting and growing healthy food, it serves as the opportunity to educate and provide deeper relationships within the community. The gardens and programs are meant to build a cohesive, integrated community around the common bonds of healthy local food. 

The goals of Planting Seeds of Hope are:

H – Health – Environmental, public and individual wellness

O – Open communities – Intentionally inclusive and integrated places

P – People development – Ample growth opportunities for youth and adults

E – Entrepreneurship – A spirit of innovation and creating shared prosperity method

Open to all local residents and visitors as a place to assist in volunteering or act as a classroom to learn more, the farm and community center serve its purpose! With the assistance of volunteers and Project Coordinators assisting in maintaining and creating planting beds, planting, digging, watering, weeding, and composting, Planting Seeds of Hope is well on its way to kicking off summer with some fresh fruits and vegetables.

Interested in joining this team of passionate and hard-working volunteers who are dedicated to local farming? Become a Project Coordinator today and take the lead in transforming this Newark neighborhood into a Healthy, Open community where People develop and Entrepreneurship flourishes.

Who is Care of the Park?

Who is Care of the Park will be a recurring series aimed at painting a picture of the people that make the program possible. From star volunteers to Park staff, this series will shine a light on who is Care of the Park and why they give back.

Who is Care of the Park-October 2018

Emily Guo is a high school senior attending The Lawrenceville School. Passionate about service and sustainability, Emily reached out to Jersey Cares about volunteering at Essex County Branch Brook Park and the Care of the Park program. For 6 weeks, Emily volunteered as a Peer Leader, working with 11 high school students working for Care of the Park as part of the Summer Youth Employment Program. Below is an interview with Emily discussing her experiences as a Care of the Park volunteer:

Why do you volunteer?

“Before high school I never did any kind of volunteering. I really felt unmotivated. I always had an interest in sustainability and decided to search for those opportunities in high school. Once I started volunteering, being able to help others helped give me a purpose and motivation. I could give back to my community and have meaningful experiences, so it was kind of a win-win situation for me.”

What compelled you to volunteer with Care of the Park?

“Really it lined up with my own personal interests since I’ve always been passionate about the environment. I didn’t know much about Care of the Park or the Summer Youth Employment Program initially, but as I learned more I was excited. I was looking forward to working with people my age who had a shared mindset for making a difference. Doing all that while working in a beautiful park was just a bonus.”

What was your favorite moment volunteering in the park?

“It’s really hard to pick a specific moment. The first week of the program was awkward with the Park Ambassadors not really knowing each other. It wasn’t easy to get them to socialize or speak up, but as they got more comfortable working in the park and with each other that all changed. I’d say my favorite moment was when we came into work and I could see them being comfortable with each other and meaningful relationships being built. It made working together even more fun and the experience in the park even better.”

What was your biggest takeaway from your volunteer experience?

“The biggest thing I learned was understanding the perspective of others. My background was so different from the other Park Ambassadors and being able to learn about them helped me branch out my own views of the world. Learning about their passions and what mattered to each of them really opened my eyes. I found it both refreshing and inspiring.”

What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about volunteering?  

“I’d say you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s hard to put it into words what exactly I gained, but volunteering has been such a transformative experience. I could see the growth not just in me, but the other volunteers around me. You get all that and get to make a positive impact on a community. Walking through the park and seeing people enjoy the places I worked in was so worthwhile. You may not see the difference yourself, but people in the community definitely will. And that will make the few hours you spend volunteering totally worth it.”

What does Care of the Park mean to you?

“It was really a transformative experience. I went in there looking to use my skills to contribute and make a difference. But working with Care of the Park, the most valuable part was working with the volunteers and getting to know each of them. Working with our volunteer leaders (Jersey Cares staff and the Rutgers Master Gardeners leading the projects) I felt like they cared about getting to know us and really humanized the experience. I was fortunate enough to be able to help others, but I also gained so much from the people I worked with. To me, Care of the Park is the great people you get to work with.”