Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Fitness Divas Transforming Their Community One Park at a Time

Darlisa Evans, Betty Robertson and Wendy Williams are community residents who participated in exercise classes offered this past spring by Bronx Health REACH and the Institute for Family Health, and who achieved significant improvements in their health, stronger friendships and a new passion for healthy living. They remained so committed to healthy living that this summer they formed their own group – the “Fitness Divas.” In addition, to regularly providing exercise classes for their friends and neighbors in nearby parks and a local housing complex, they’ve become amazing public health and parks advocates in their own community.
Last Thursday, the Fitness Divas joined Bronx Health REACH for a meeting with the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation to discuss the poor conditions of the parks in the Bronx and how community residents and organizations can partner with the NYC Parks & Recreation Department to make improvements to Bronx parks. Attending the meeting from the Bronx Office of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation were Robert Wright, Chief of Recreation and Deputy Chiefs of Recreation Neil Harmon and Pete Jones. During the meeting, Darlisa, Betty and Wendy discussed the poor condition of Galileo Park, where they exercise. They pointed to the fact that the park is dirty, the equipment is old and poorly maintained, the benches are waterlogged and that there is a sinkhole. Beyond the unappealing state of the park, they talked about their concern for the lack of park space for children with disabilities, especially in Plimpton Park, which is right across from a school for children with special needs. In the grand scheme of things, the Fitness Divas pointed out that the parks should not only be seen as places for physical activity but for healthy eating as well. Ideas were shared about placing Green Carts in the parks and encouraging bodegas neighboring the parks to set up outdoor stands offering water and fruits.
The Parks Department staff agreed that there are a number of challenges to using parks in the Bronx, especially in Community Board 5, which has the least amount of green space in the Bronx and does not even have a recreation center. However, they discussed and emphasized the important role of community members in reporting these concerns and getting involved in their local park to improve its conditions. Deputy Chief Harmon recommended a number of activities that people can to do improve the conditions of their parks:
  • Contact your local Community Board and/or call 311 to make complaints. When you call 311, the claim goes directly to the Parks Manager and then he/she has 48 hours to fix the problem in the park. Also, make sure to request a meeting with the Parks Manager to meet you at the park to review the problem and see how it was fixed.
  • Work with the Partnership for Parks to create a “Friends of Group” for parks that don’t have them. “Friends of” groups become part of a citywide network of people connected with and interested in improving their local parks. Anthony Martinez is the coordinator for the Bronx.
  • Join the Parks Committee of your local Community Board.
  • Work with your Community Board to get the Community Affairs Department of the nearby precinct to increase police patrolling near the parks.
  • Set up a meeting with your local City Council member to discuss the capital funds for your local parks and increasing the number of Park Enforcement Patrol officers.
  • Attend the Parks Department budget consultation/“scopes” meeting to voice concerns about local parks. Anyone from the community can attend.
In addition to this invaluable information from the Parks Department, one of the major takeaways from this meeting was the importance of community involvement in all work that we do. In order to make significant, sustainable improvements to our parks in the Bronx, community residents must be at the forefront of all activities and discussions, because they know their community best -- they know the people, the concerns, and the solutions better than anyone else. For these reasons, we strongly encourage our partners and colleagues to make sure that community residents are sitting front and center when developing and implementing programs and policies that aim to improve the health of the Bronx and reduce health disparities.
We can’t thank Darlisa, Betty, and Wendy enough for their energy, enthusiasm, hard work, and commitment to the health of the Bronx and our parks. There is no doubt in our mind that there will be major improvements in the parks in the Bronx in the near future because of these amazing women and others like them!
For more information about how you can get involved in your Community Board, click here.
For more information about how you can create a “Friends of Parks” group at your park, click here.

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