Park Pride encourages residents to get involved with neighborhood greenspaces through Friends of the Park program
By Hannah E. Jones
With the start of the new year, Park Pride — a nonprofit working with communities to improve parks around the City of Atlanta and DeKalb County — opened registration for its Friends of the Park (FoP) program. Through this initiative, Park Pride empowers residents to invest in and activate their neighborhood parks, using an inclusive, collaborative and personalized approach.
The FoP groups vary in size and scope, but all include a slate of community members dedicated to ensuring their local park serves the needs of the community. Through FoP, residents have access to resources related to park stewardship, like crafting a master plan, fundraising, volunteer management, capacity-building workshops, free tool rentals and more.
Last year, Park Pride had over 150 FoP groups within the City of Atlanta, DeKalb County and Brookhaven. The exact figure is unclear, Director of Community Services Ellen Bruenderman explained, as the nonprofit also serves groups that are unregistered but need assistance.
This cycle, though, the team encourages all FoP groups to officially register. Registration is open until Wednesday, Feb. 15. Some groups aren’t eligible, like those representing spaces that are privately owned or parks that fall outside Park Pride’s service areas of Atlanta, unincorporated DeKalb County and Brookhaven.
A key component of this program is that it’s resident-led — empowering neighbors to take ownership of their local parks and improve their shared greenspaces.
“[Group members are] the ones who are in the parks the most often, seeing issues that arise and seeing how the park is being used or not used. They do a lot of hard work as volunteers,” Bruenderman said. “We can’t get a sense of what’s happening in a park and how it plays into broader community priorities without having the connection with Friends Groups.”
Another major piece of Park Pride’s program includes its financial services, which are provided via its Grantmaking and Fiscal Sponsorship programs. Through the Grantmaking Program, local funders provide grants that Park Pride redistributes to its FoP groups for capital improvement projects like new playgrounds, trails and fitness equipment. Robert W. Woodruff Foundation is a primary funder for this program.
In the Fiscal Sponsorship Program, which includes about 70 active FoP groups, Park Pride takes on the administrative tasks associated with fundraising. The parks are also able to use Park Pride’s 501c3 status to accept tax-deductible donations and more. In exchange, the nonprofit collects a five percent fee.
To ensure resources are being distributed equitably and underserved communities’ needs are met, FoP groups can qualify for grants that don’t require any kind of funding match. Park Pride also recently allocated sixty-seven percent of its 2.5 million grant cycle to low-income areas.
Financial support is only available for parks that have a designated group, another component of ensuring the community is in the driver’s seat.
“We need to work within what the community’s needs and desires are,” Director of Grantmaking and Fiscal Sponsorship Kayla Altland said. “If there’s not a Friends of the Park group, we aren’t able to provide a grant. Even though we want to provide opportunities for all areas of the city to have equitable access to that funding, making sure it’s going through the community’s lens and what their desires are, is the most important part.”
Altland estimates that a little less than a quarter of the FoP groups receive funding each year, but that number is higher when looking at the lifetime of the program. This is also a testament to the value of the resources Park Pride offers, outside of financial support alone.
The folks with Lang-Carson Park have taken advantage of many of these resources. Lang-Carson is a three-acre park in Reynoldstown, situated next to the recreation center, with basketball and tennis courts, a playground and a community garden but desperately needed some TLC. In 2018, Group Leader Annie Appleton reactivated the FoP group.
“We really do see [the park] as the center of the Reynoldstown neighborhood,” Appleton said. “This is a neighborhood that has gone through major changes over the years, and we want to ensure that the heartbeat of Reynoldstown remains strong and true to the beauty that this neighborhood always has been, while new people can also feel welcome and be part of this community.”
In 2019, the Lang-Carson group gathered a steering committee of residents to craft a new master plan. The Reynoldstown park has also received two rounds of grants from Park Pride — $130,000 and $100,000 — to improve accessibility and visibility for the neighborhood space.
Before this funding, Lang-Carson’s entrance had an unsafe ramp and minimal visibility from the street. These grants have funded key improvements to the park, including a new ADA-accessible pathway, a new play structure and increased greenspace by removing about half of the concrete.
“We have seen a huge increase in park usability since that project,” Appleton said.
Overall, Appleton said that Park Pride’s FoP initiative has been instrumental in improving and activating the Reynoldstown park.
“One of the beautiful things that Park Pride does is they really center the neighbors who have a passion for green space in their community,” Appleton said. “Park Pride doesn’t make you feel like you have to be an expert at what you’re doing. They really help to empower residents that are starting at square one, and they hold your hand until you’re ready to soar on your own. I don’t think it would’ve been possible for us to accomplish all that we have without this group.”