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.”
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.”