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Von King Park: The Community Responds

A few residents take action, and now, Von King Park is on its way to revitalization

In the first of our three-part series on Von King Park entitled, “,” we surveyed the cleanliness and maintenance of Bed-Stuy’s most expansive and oldest park and concluded it was in dire need of revitalization.

The second story in our series entitled, “” compared the park’s cleanliness with those of surrounding neighborhoods and challenged the community's own personal accountability to its upkeep.

The final in the three-part series was set to examine what actions were needed for improving the park’s appearance and usefulness. However, since the publication of the first two stories, a few local residents have already begun to take matters into their own hands.

Claudette Brady, a longtime Bed-Stuy resident and co-founder of Bedford Corners Historic District, contacted the Partnership for Parks Representative Joseph Sanchez, who serves as the liaise between the Parks Department and all of Bed-Stuy’s parks (assigned by Community Board 3).

Together, they arranged a meeting with Von King Park Manager Emilio Lopes at the the Von King Recreation Center. And as serendipity would have it, Ronee Mattingly, the Brooklyn Deputy Chief for Recreations happened to be on site at the time of the meeting and was able to join them.

Mattingly assured the group that the Parks Department was aware of the community’s concern for better upkeep and maintenance of Von King Park, but that they were looking for the community’s assistance.

“The conversation went beyond just cleanup,” said Brady. “What we’re trying to do now is create a 'Friends Group,' like the Central Park Conservancy, where people are not just concerned about cleanup but are also raising funds.”

Brady also contacted Bed-Stuy resident Wayne Devonish, co-founder of 500 Men Making a Difference, who she had learned had recently started asking around about improving the appearance of Von King Park.

Devonish said he was made aware of the disrepair of the park about a month ago, when he decided to run in the park.

“I went over there to run, and I was like, oh my god, this place looks like crap…” said Devonish. “I never realized how crappy it looked. I thought, something’s got to be done." The following Monday, Devonish met with the Von King Cultural Center Manager Lemuel Mial and asked him how he could get involved in helping to improve the grounds.

“I said, ‘Look, I run this group. We do renovation projects, and I’d like to do something around the end of September for the entire park.'”

Mial agreed, and Devonish started reaching out to landscaping contractors for guidance around what would be needed and how much it would cost. Inevitably, he ran into Claudette Brady, who was poking around the same circles with the same people regarding the same issue.

“He has his vision, and I have my vision, and we still need to sit down and combine those visions,” said Brady. “But we both have a long-term goal of revitalizing the park and creating a sustainable community organization that will be in the park at least monthly to do cleanup and painting.”

Brady says so far, all they’ve got is a little manpower and technical assistance from some donated items. But, she says, as temperatures are cooling down, there’s a lot they can do, as far as applying for future grants and building up a friends group between now and spring 2012

So far, the budding park “friends group,” did a walk-through and decided on their initial project: On September 24 and 25, from 10:00am to 4:00pm they will re-paint one of the playgrounds and also weed and mulch (add wood chips) to the planting beds around the recreation center and the park entrances on Lafayette Avenue, between Marcy and Tompkins Avenues.

The Parks Department has agreed to provide them with brooms, garbage bags, pickup sticks, brushes, drop cloths and gloves. They’re waiting to hear back this week about a possible paint donation from a local paint store.

Separate from cleanup, the small group also is working on setting up murals and arts projects. The group plans to take part in the citywide “Love Your Park Day” on October 15. And in early November, it is holding a daffodil planting, in conjunction with New Yorkers for Parks.

To join Von King’s “friends group” and cleanup efforts, email Claudette Brady through the Change By Us website.

Currently, the group is preparing for a grant that requires the sign-up and participation of at least 20 supporters, and they're hoping to get as many people on board as possible before the grant deadline.

“A lot of things will overlap, but they will eventually all come together,” said Brady. “We’re building. In the meantime, I’m still asking people, ‘hey, you wanna help me with this?’”

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