Newton Parks, Recreation & Culture (NPRC) announced on Feb. 1 that NewtonSERVES, an annual citywide community service project, is scheduled to take place on May 7.
“The core mission is, I think, community service and beautification in our city,” Paula Gannon, Newton’s director of cultural development, said. “And this project serves both of those by bringing together, gosh, almost 1,000 volunteers on one particular day, all working together to beautify the city in many different locations across the city.”
Beginning on Feb. 1, project sites can apply to be a part of NewtonSERVES online. Project sites eligible for the program must be properties of the City of Newton, such as school grounds, parks, and city buildings, according to the city’s website.
Volunteer registration opens on March 15 and ends on May 3.
Carol Stapleton, a program manager within NPRC, said neighborhoods often rally together on special projects that pertain to their village within the city.
Upper Falls usually conducts a cleanup of the walking paths around an area called the Greenway, Stapleton said. Stapleton’s own village of Auburndale hosts a trail cleanup near its playground called The Cove, she said.
“People that use the parks come together for a day to help everybody clean it up,” Stapleton said.
More than just building and serving the community, NewtonSERVES also offers an opportunity for families to bond, according to Gannon.
“It’s such a nice family activity, where parents can teach children the importance of community involvement, supporting their community, and giving back to their community through volunteerism,” Gannon said.
Kate Wissel, a resident of Newton Centre and veterinarian, said NewtonSERVES is a uniquely accessible and inclusive opportunity to prompt a lifelong love for giving back to a community and uncover a new passion through volunteering.
“When I was a kid, there were so many more opportunities for kids to volunteer,” she said. “For me even my path to becoming a veterinarian started with volunteering at an animal shelter and volunteering at a veterinary hospital. Now I look for opportunities like that for my own children and there are so few you know. This is one of those things where, like, you can kind of show up at any age, any ability level, and just do it.”
Wissel has spent the last few years coordinating the annual volunteer effort at Mason-Rice Elementary School, she said.
She works with the school’s teachers to identify projects for volunteers to tackle when the day of service rolls around. The projects range from preparing garden beds with fresh soil and compost to repainting hopscotch and four square patterns on the playground, Wissel said.
Wissel has witnessed this hard work pay off and become the source of fond memories for students, volunteers, and their families, she said.
“I see kids walking through with their parents and their grandparents holding their hands and pointing out to them like ‘this is the garden that I pulled … the weeds out of,’” she said. “Every year it’s such a great memory just to see these kids and the pride they take in doing something that’s outside, frequently outside of their routine and their comfort level, and then asking to do it again.”
Dan Brody, a past volunteer with NewtonSERVES, said the organization provides the resources to collaboratively and concretely improve the city.
“I guess the main thing is it just gives me a better ability to think if there’s a project that I think ought to be done that I can’t do myself, that this is a resource that’s available,” Brody said. “So if I’m walking the trails and I say oh, you know, this really looks like it could use some help, I can get some help on these projects.”
Brody, who has lived in Newton for more than 30 years, took advantage of the resources NewtonSERVES provides to bring together a team to revive Cold Spring Park in 2011. During his frequent visits to the park’s trails near Newton Centre with his wife, he noticed the debris scattered around the wetland areas and submitted a project site proposal that ended up drawing 20 volunteers in a successful cleanup of the park, he said.
Gannon said several departments provide crucial logistical support to NPRC, including the city’s maintenance team and the Newton Conservation Office. The maintenance team ensures that all volunteer groups have the necessary tools and materials to participate in the program, and the Newton Conservation Office teaches volunteers how to properly dispose of invasive plants at project sites.
“We’re so grateful, from the city’s perspective, that people do come out and do the heavy lifting because it’s a big job in the spring to clean everything from the winter,” Gannon said. “We’re very grateful that the community comes forward. Newton is just blessed with adults who are passionate about the community and want to pass that legacy on to their children.”