Parks can be places where people make new friends. On Saturday, it was a park itself that made new friends as community leaders, officials, and city wide residents gathered to inaugurate and celebrate the launch of Friends of Goffe Street Park, the newest among 15 park advocacy and stewardship groups across the city.
Billed as a “Goffe Street Park and Neighborhood Clean-up Day,” the event, sponsored by Ward 28 Alder Jill Marks, drew a crowd of around 60 people including neighbors, Mayor Toni Harp, a handful of alders, department heads and workers from the city public works and parks and rec departments, members of New Haven Rising, local church pastors and members, and park friends groups.
Older visitors remember the tree-lined urban oasis bordering segments of Goffe Street, Sherman Avenue and Country Street —- technically called De Gale Field — as Beaver Ponds Park. Today, most people call it Goffe Street Park.
Before branching out in groups in a strategic and well-coordinated plan to clean up the park and surrounding streets, volunteers heard from Mayor Harp. “They recognize that they can’t do everything alone,” Harp said in reference to parks and public works crews. “They depend on neighbors coming together to help out.” At her side was public works enforcement officer Honda Smith.
“One of the great things about a Park Friends group is that when you show ownership and care for a place, you help change behaviors of the other people in that place,” said city parks chief Rebecca Bombero. That sentiment was echoed by Maggie Fernandez, a Livable City Initiative employee who also lives in the park neighborhood and who encouraged Friends of Goffe Street Park participation. “If you can encourage a neighbor in any way, that sometimes starts with body language — if they see us do more, maybe they will do more as well,” Fernandez said.
Nostalgia was also part of the kick-off ceremonies as Walter Pop Smith Little League President Lynair Walker, New Haven Rising’s Scott Marks, and Pastor Don Morris, speakers with longtime connections to the park, talked about working over the years to acquire park amenities, playground equipment and even the stage upon which they stood. They also recounted community events at the park that drew enormous crowds; events like Black Expo, women’s softball league tournaments, CT Basketball Shoot Outs, gospel and Unity in the Community festivals.
While events at the park have ebbed and flowed over the years, Whalley Edgewood Beaver Hills (WEB) Community Management Team, Nadine Horton (pictured above) summed up the spirit of the park today: “In my opinion this is a true community park because it draws from the Dixwell neighborhood, Whalley and Beaver Hills. At any point in time you can come here and see African Americans along with members of the Orthodox Jewish community playing baseball, softball — kids on the playground. So this truly is a community park.”
After all the speeches, it was time to grab rakes, cans, trash bags and gloves.
Volunteers of all ages…
... headed out to corners ...
... and courts…
... to clean along sidewalks …
…. and fences.
Some had a message for folks who litter while showing disregard for their environment and their neighbors.
As clean-up continued, organizer Jill Marks could be seen dutifully raking along side others in the park. Her body language spoke volumes.
With the mission of the day accomplished, volunteers headed back to the stage for some lunch and line dancing, confident that the park’s legacy would be honored going forward.