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12

One Step Away

NOVEMBER 2016

If there is any park that represents Philadelphia’s melting

pot, it is Mifflin Square Park.

“You might not even know that it’s there as you’re going to

that part of South Philadelphia,” said Brooke Allen, founder

and member of Friends of Mifflin Square Park. “And then

you step onto either fifth or sixth off of Ritner, and the feeling

you get in the park is a really authentic community park.”

Mifflin Square Park, according to Allen, is bordered by a

neighborhood that is experiencing different levels of poverty

but is home to host of cultures from Southeast Asia, the

Middle East, West Africa, Central and South America, and

United States born blacks and whites. Allen says the park is

unlike other Philadelphia squares, like Rittenhouse, because

the South Philly park truly represents who lives in the

neighborhood.

“I feel at Mifflin Square Park, there’s so many positive things

that an ethnically diverse neighborhood can have,” Allen said.

“Building tolerance. Breaking stereotypes. I look at it almost

like when you get to the park, you really do see a matchup

of who’s in there using the park and what the community is

like.”

In 2008, Allen and her husband volunteered at Love Your

Park Day, a city-wide park cleanup through the Parks &

Recreation Department, and were assigned Mifflin Square

Park. Neither of them had ever been, and according to

Allen, the park could use some TLC. There were no already

established volunteer groups or neighbors taking care of

the park, so after meeting with community members and

volunteers who wanted to see a change in Mifflin Square, the

"I feel at Mifflin Square Park, there's

so many positive things that an

ethically diverse neighborhood can

have. Building tolerance. Breaking

stereotypes."

Friends of Mifflin Square Park formed in 2010.

Since the formation of the Friends of Mifflin Square

Park, Allen says that after communicating with the police

department, she has seen a decrease in vandalism, assault,

and theft by auto.

“I feel like one of the reasons is because of the positive activity

that’s going on in the park,” Allen said. “We’ve definitely had

folks say that they feel safer coming to the park now, whereas

eight years ago, it was a very different situation.”

The park hosts a multitude of events, with some 75 to 80

hours this year, from yoga for children and adults, park

cleanups, read-a-thons, herb and flower planting, painting,

sporting events, a kids club, and more.

“I think one of the things that I still notice even after eight

years is to see kids, especially of all different backgrounds

playing together and getting along,” Allen said.

Allen and other Friends also witness intergenerational

togetherness.

With such a diverse group of people who utilize the park,

language barriers can often present a problem, especially

when it comes to programs and events. The park is fortunate

enough to have kids who speak their native language as well

as English. Allen recalled a time when a group fromMyanmar

attended a planting event, where the neighborhood came to

the park to learn to plant cooking herbs like lemon grass,

sage, and oregano and place them in personally decorated

pots. There were no other adults or volunteers available who

could assist with translating, so one of the kids that came with

them put on the translator hat. He was able to communicate

what the plants were, what they could be used for, how to

take care of them, and how to remove the leaves to promote

healthy growth.

“I feel like that situation might make both people on both

ends feel uneasy about the situation,” Allen said, “But it was

a nice situation. It was a classic situation of the interactions

that happen at the park. That could’ve been a barrier, but it

wasn’t.”

Just like the young boy helping adults with translation

and planting, organizations in that South Philadelphia

Neighborhood have joined forces with Mifflin Square Park

to help both grow. Mifflin partners with the Cambodian

Association of Greater Philadelphia’s day school, after

school, and summer program, organizing events like reading

and sporting events for the kids. Mifflin has also been able

to receive funding through a partnership with Sharswood

Elementary’s Out of School Time program. Sharswood is a

program run by United Communities, which has submitted

grant proposals on behalf of Mifflin Square Park. Because

the park is not a 501(c)(3), it cannot seek grants on its own.

The funding that the park gets through Sharswood for

programming does not have to only be used with Sharswood

students. They prefer for all kids that Mifflin Square Park

services to be able to benefit from new programs and

resources.

“It would be sort of a sticky situation if one of these groups

said, ‘You can only invite our kids,’” Allen said. “Everyone’s

been very generous to make sure the activities that are

planned can include all community kids.”

One of the many goals for the park is to reinstate the night

market, where people from the neighborhood can prepare

food and sell fresh produce. The market was shut down last

year because it was not legal and did fall in line with the

Department of Public Health’s food safety protocols. Other

goals and initiatives include creating resources for smaller

kids to utilize in the park, expanding the sprinkler system

that draws 100 to 200 people to the park during the summer,

revitalize the basketball courts, build a volleyball court, create

a shelter for picnicking and bathroom utilization, and set off

a space for a community garden.

And Mifflin Square Park can see many of these goals come

to fruition. The William Penn Foundation awarded the

Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition

a multi-million-dollar grant, and through this partnership,

some of the funds will be used for renovations and other

improvements in the park.

“To have grown to this point is sort of like a dream,” Allen

said, “and just remembering where we were walking into the

park eight years ago. It’s great to see the smiles on the kid’s

faces, and you can see the feedback. We want to feel like what

we’re doing at the park is going to make a difference, so there’s

so much excitement about what’s going on here.”

MIFFLIN SQUARE PARK

Where diverse communities come together

Photos provided by Mifflin Square Park