By Alicia Venter
Phil Rizzuto “Smokey” Park sits in the middle of Richmond Hill, and long- time residents Aleena and Bill Knight have heard neighbors talk for years about their desire for the park’s renovation.
As the founders of the 95th Avenue Block Association, which was formed two years ago, the couple decided to lead the initiative to
beautify the neighborhood park themselves.
“My wife and I just decided, ‘let’s do it,’ so we did,” Bill Knight said.
Four months ago, the group “Friends of Snokey (Phil Rizzuto) Park” officially formed.
This past Saturday, they held their first cleanup, drawing elected officials and members of the community for a memorable afternoon.
In attendance were volunteers and members of Friends of Smokey Park, Juliet Ganpat, Pastor Charles McGowan of Gospel Baptist Church, Sherry Algredo, Chair of Community Board 9 and Senator Joseph Addabbo.
A few years prior to the group’s organization, the children’s playground was redone; the group now looks to other sections of the park to continue the improvements that were halted in what likely was due to funding, Knight said.
One of the goals that the organization has, though Knight acknowledges it “won’t happen right away,” is to put a three or four lane track around the large grass field within the park.
There is a large senior citizen community that frequents the park, Bill Knight explained. However, he noticed that they would do their morning exercises outside the park, while enjoying the park’s interior.
Another major concern they noticed takes place during the summer — during baseball games held in the park, visitors will park on the sidewalk, which causes safety concerns and concerns regarding the overall quality of the park.
“It will be available to local schools for track teams and groups,” Knight said. “More importantly, it [will give] senior citizens a safe place for them to walk around.”
The group also looks to renovate the basketball court.
“We are really serious about making an impact that will be beneficial to the community, not to us,” Knight said. “We are a non- profit. We have no skin in the game.”
Though they have long- term goals on the horizon, the group is also looking to make change now.
On Saturday, the group took rakes and trashbags around the park, cleaning trash and other debris. They also planted bulbs.
“On a beautiful Saturday, these volunteers could all be somewhere else, with families or private businesses or home,” Addabbo said. “But they are there in the park, giving back to the community. It’s great to see, and I just came by there to say thank you — because too often those two words often volunteers don’t hear.”
Addabbo noted the presence of Community Board 9 Chair Sherry Algredo and the Partnership for Parks. It was “great to see” the city park’s department providing supplies and support to the group.
“It is always great when you can see the local folks take an initiative to upkeep their parks and be involved in their community,” said Algredo. “That is exactly what some residents have chosen to do and hosted their first ‘It’s my Park’ cleanup this past Saturday. Community Board 9 was happy to be there to support this effort and we applaud all the volunteers that came out and worked hard in this cleanup initiative.”
The Park’s Department was not just supporting from afar.
Alejandra Vanegas, outreach coordinator for “Parknership for Parks” was in attendance, helping the organizers plant bulbs and clean.
Her job is to help provide the tools and provide support in the organization of the event so as to make their vision of beautifying the park a reality.
A huge part of the organization of the group was Senator James Sanders Jr., who suggested the group form.
The 95th Avenue Block Association has printed newsletters monthly and delivered them door-to-door with information regarding Community Board meetings, and events.
Now, the Friends of Smokey Park has a Facebook page, which they encourage nearby residents to join. Visit www.facebook. com/groups/friendsof- smokeypark for more information.