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That’s a Wrap: Recapping our Summer BBQ & Beautify Series

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This summer Friends of Grand Rapids Parks launched a new series called BBQ + Beautify. The series occurred in six parks between June and September. We were graciously able to provide this program with support from Kent County Health Connect and the REACH grant and with sponsorship support from West Michigan Credit Union and Open Systems Technologies. The idea, however, goes all the way back to January of this year.

Soon after Executive Director Tracey Flower’s winter arrival, she called a staff meeting to ask staff about summer programming priorities. Within minutes of the meeting’s start, staff expressed the desire to bring summer programming back to basics with events that highlight the glories of the Grand Rapids parks system. Staff wanted something that would be just as much fun for people who had never volunteered with FGRP as it would be for long time volunteers. Staff wanted events that combined “park stuff” with “tree stuff”. They wanted events that took place all over the city and paid special attention to parks in need of love. And they wanted food! With Daria’s creative mind, Margaret’s urban forest knowledge, and Yiovanny’s passion for community, the BBQ + Beautify series was born!

The series traveled throughout the city to six parks: Garfield, Ken-O-Sha, Richmond, Sigsbee, Joe Taylor, and Martin Luther King Junior. Each event engaged different neighbors, Citizen Foresters, and Parks Alive Leaders and brought them all together in their passion for their park and their neighborhood. Volunteers were able to mix and match their passions with park and tree projects occurring simultaneously and gain hands-on experience with FGRP’s parks trailer and forestry trailer. Board members grilled, Citizen Foresters pruned, and Parks Alive Leaders cleaned in unison with neighbors and newcomers.

It may sound simple, but simplicity was the goal. So often, good intentions are mixed up in complicated realities and the vision is lost. The BBQ + Beautify series reminded people that living in a city with such beautiful parks and such exciting diversity is a good thing, and that sometimes it’s enough to walk to a park and simply enjoy it. The series brought people together organically and fostered some of the most meaningful conversations in the history of the organization. Neighbors talked with Citizen Foresters about their tree concerns. Parks Alive Leaders spoke with neighbors about their park needs. At MLK Park, a board member shared hot dogs with a table of toddlers and moms and discussed how their kids engage in play. At Ken-O-Sha Park, the school principal and her family sat at the same table as park users and neighbors and talked about how hard the school is working to get students outdoors more.

The series engaged more than 130 volunteers, and that only includes the volunteer portion. Countless others came out to grab a burger or say hello during the community meals. Volunteers spread mulch, weeded gardens, pruned trees, and planted flowers to beautify their parks. Neighbors discussed millage dollars, safety issues, park memories, and neighborhood accomplishments during the BBQs. And through it all, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks learned more and more about the City’s parks and their users. The series is done, but we are rolling out another gorgeous fall of tree plantings and community conversations. If you didn’t catch us during the BBQ + Beautify series, come out this fall to one of our events!

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