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Seizing the Day
Portland, Oregon, is well-known as a crunchy sort of town, filled with folks who appreciate green spaces and natural beauty. More so than in other cities, the locals here prioritize healthy lifestyles and conservation efforts, so the public spaces managed by Portland Parks and Recreation (PP&R) and supported by nonprofit partner Portland Parks Foundation (PPF) hum with activity from an appreciative community.
However, after a recent public survey, PPF staff were surprised at the lack of awareness regarding the park system’s issues, including maintenance challenges and neighborhoods without parks, as well as its strong volunteer support adding up to more than 475,000 hours per year. In response, they began brainstorming positive ways to respond to both findings, and an idea soon began to form. “A citywide event — getting people to come together in celebration of their efforts — was a way to thank the volunteers, attract new ones, get great work accomplished and raise public awareness,” says Nick Hardigg, executive director of PPF.
To begin pulling the event together, PPF had to get the City on board to help provide organizational support. “Supporting volunteers is a lot of work, and resources are already stretched,” Hardigg says. “The City told us about many projects they felt they could oversee, and then we asked park friends groups to join us, too. We knew that our foundation could host sign-ups and event promotion, but the logistics of tools, oversight and how many volunteers we could turn out was unknown.We knew that we wanted this to be the biggest parks volunteering event in city history.” Initially, the combined hope was to gather 1,000 volunteers to pitch in at 40 parks, an ambitious goal.
In April 2013, the City approved plans for the event, dubbed “Parke Diem” as a fun play on the Latin phrase for “seize the day,” and a weekend was set: October 11 and 12. Throughout the summer, PPF, PP&R and several affiliated organizations secured partner support, recruited volunteers at park events, determined park projects to include, helped the friends groups plan logistics for each location and spread the word to generate interest from the wider Portland community.
By the time the Parke Diem weekend arrived, organizers had secured 50 partners, including big names such as Coca-Cola and Bank of America as title sponsors, to support 74 work projects in 70 parks across the city, far outstripping their original goals. Best of all, more than 1,400 people showed up to clean, dig, plant, weed, build and restore their public spaces across the two-day event. All volunteers were provided with a Parke Diem T-shirt plus snacks and drinks to keep them energized as they worked.
“The outpouring of support for parks was outstanding,” Hardigg says. “We hadn’t imagined we could get so many people to take part.” With dozens of parks across the city bearing witness to the power of collective impact following last year’s event, PPF has already begun making plans for 2014.
“We plan to expand it to involve all city neighborhoods,” Hardigg continues. “But parks bureau staff are stretched to monitor all work projects, and we’ll have to choose projects carefully. We’d like to make it even more fun in 2014 and have dreams of roving bands of musicians visiting sites.”
For more insight on this project and advice on how to launch a similar large-scale volunteer event, check out Nick Hardigg’s blog entry coming this month on NRPA's Open Space blog.
Danielle Taylor is the Senior Editor of Parks & Recreation Magazine.