Park revitalized by 52 People for Progress, a local volunteer group
52 Park is unique for the passion and hard work of the community that saved it from deterioration. The park, in the Longwood section of the Bronx, might have been in indistinguishable from other vest-pocket parks if not for a surprising advocacy effort by a dedicated group of volunteers called 52 People for Progress, Inc. (52 PFP). When it was built in the mid-1950s as a traditional Robert Moses-era playground, 52 Park contained a wading pool, basketball courts and a small park house. When much of the South Bronx burned in the 1970s, those structures decayed and the park became a menacing place. Today located in a neighborhood that still has a high count of vacant buildings and abandoned lots and just a moderate level of housing construction, 52 Park is a popular urban oasis. It is owned by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, but, since...
In 1980, a young man came to me and asked me to help organize an organization that would help improve the quality of life in the community in which I used to live in. Because I still had alot of love for the place I grew up in, this inspired me to do whatever was necessary to do just that, improve the quality of life within the community. As a member of this newly developing organization, I learned to help organize events that helped others understand what was needed to be done in order to enjoy a park that served many neighborhood children. It was very important to me that the park be free of broken glass and garbage. It made me very proud to see children playing in the park without any fear that they would get hurt because of broken glass or a fence that had parts of it sticking out. As a result, many people got involved and participated in organizing events such as painting, cleaning and recreational activities. Many residents started to come into the park, sit at a bench, and enjoy watching the people using the park. That alone gave me a sense of accomplishment.
If we do not get involved in giving back to our community, we cannot influence what goes on in public places such as our parks. It is important for everyone to understand that giving back will not only inspire others to get involved but also give a sense of accomplishment that no one can take from you. Many playgrounds are built but some of those playgrounds do not have people who care enougn to say, "Let's take care of it because it is where our children play." Some expect the Parks Department to take care of it, but with all the budget cuts the Parks Dept. cannot monitor every park they build.
At 52 Park, as many residents saw that there was a group that was indeed interested in maintaining and providing a service to them, they became interested as well. It was like a "pay it forward" kind of thing. As word of mouth spread, others got involved and now the organization has many supporters that give in many ways -- be it in labor or funds. People truly look forward to the Latin Jazz Series provided every Wednesday from July through September. It has become like a family reunion as many of the supporters no longer live in the community. Having people come to the park every summer to enjoy the music is something that cannot be measured in dollar and cents. It is something that has a special meaning to each and every individual who has continued their relationships with others by continuing to come by and get together. It is a gathering place that brings many people together. A place that brings a little happiness to many.
The physical details of this place matter because not every park has people who have dedicated over 50,000 volunteer hours to keep the place in the condition it is in today. The ampitheather is particularly important because the existing organization has provided music there to the community for the last 12 years. It has also provided the children in the community with many activities that are lacking in school and/or not within their reach if it were not for 52 PFP. The water sprinkler is something else that is loved by many as it is used daily in the summer to cool off from the heat. The handball and basketball courts are also used throughout the year by the youth. When it comes down to it, the entire park would be missed by someone at one point or another as it serves as a place to be enjoyed. It is a place where people gather to get together with their families and friends.
52 People for Progress has cared for this park for the last 26 years. We hope that some interested corporation or individual would fund and/or sponsor the Latin Jazz Series and/or recreational events. We struggle year in and year out to provide the Latin Jazz Series and recreational activities. At times many members put in their own money to complete the funds needed to provide the free service to the community.
I would recommend Alberto Quinones, Roberto Rodriguez, Frankie Vasques, James Medina and Mike Amadeo as contacts regarding this organization. They can be contacted via email at 52 PFP@ alo.com. I would also recommend John Roberts and Andrea Enser from Commnuity Board 2, and Former Bronx Bourough President Fernando Ferrer. (August 2006)
In the late 1980s '52 People for Progress' organized this park's cleanup and revitalization, recruiting former and current residents. They continue to monitor and help manage the park today, hosting a range of events including Latin music concerts.