From gardens to poetry to soccer, these hands make a huge difference!
Take a look back at a few of the thousands of volunteers who make park spaces and programs great.
Jonah Fields is a special education teacher and Boys’ Varsity Soccer Coach at Como Park High School. He started volunteering as a soccer coach at Northwest Como Rec Center in 2012. Since then, Jonah has also developed a program called Soccer Stars for youth ages 4-6 and 7-11 for boys and girls and a similar Basketball Stars program at North Dale Rec Center. During COVID, Jonah stepped up to lead the Indoor Futsal Program when the Rec Center was short on coaches. Good thing he has the ability to manage multiple teams at once!
The Garden Club of Ramsey County is the oldest garden club in the state, founded in 1912. Retired high school English teacher Barb Parisien and retired nurse Kirsti Groess lead a team of gardeners from the Garden Club of Ramsey County in caring for the garden at Montreal and Edgecumbe near the disk golf course. They chair a committee of 18 members who work May-Oct, signing up for two weeks stints. A few volunteers have been with that garden since it was established in 1993. “Walkers are always complimenting the garden when they go by, which feels good. What the gardens really give us is the feeling of hope all the time. Especially during Covid when we had to make so many tough decisions about how to manage health while getting the work done.”
Kathy Sidles helps conserve precious habitats, from harvesting native seeds to picking up trash to surveying bees. “I didn’t know how retirement was going to go after 35 years of working as an electrical engineer. No one hands me a to-do list anymore… and my favorite age to be was 10, off along playing in nature. With these volunteer efforts, I have my to-do list, and I get to go out in nature to get it done. I didn’t use to see that many folks out on my walks, but because COVID drove more people outside in the last two years, I have more friends than before the pandemic.”
Htee Moo Chaw is an active soccer player who has been helping with rec center programs for several years. Among her most rewarding work is helping Kyle Johnson coach with the Karen Football Association, managing 20-40 young people and the equipment. “I’m using everything I learned growing up to give back to the community. I don’t want these programs to disappear, so I need to give back. If you grew up in rec centers as I did, you understand what families need and are going through – you understand the struggle.”
Gabriel Pfeiffer and his family worked with neighbors to start a communal garden bursting with veggies and goodwill in the former grass lot of Capital View Park on the South (“high end”) of the High Bridge. “Our family had many conversations during the pandemic about how we had taken the community for granted before the lockdown. So we wanted to find a way to build community and make a difference in our neighborhood.”
Franco Guerra and his dogs keep Wacouta Commons Park beautiful and improve park safety. “I’m a lifetime gardener, so when Kay Clover from Friends of Wacouta Commons Park asked me to help, I jumped right in. I went from tending a small area to one whole corner, to another corner, to adding more garden space in each corner. Ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be helping green things grow.”
Mem Lloyd is one of the artist-gardeners behind the Phalen Poetry Park. A clay artist and teacher who serves on the East Side Arts Council board, she worked with leaders like Romi Slowiak to create this unique garden within the park. The park’s goals are to create an artistic community space, promote individual writers and foster an audience for literature. “People need a place of calm to get mentally refreshed. During Covid, it became such a haven for families to play or just sit and enjoy. This park garden is a wonderful gathering place. It is immensely gratifying to see our vision come to life.”
Inspired? Volunteer in Saint Paul parks! From Coaching to Wildlife Monitors to Park and Garden Stewards, there are ways to make a difference that connect you to health and wellness. Learn more here.