We all have our own connections to the outdoors, unique lived experiences, and personal perspectives on what the outdoors means to us. These varying relationships can be due to geography, family, community, culture, income, age, race, gender, sexuality, and other factors. There are a multitude of ways outdoor spaces can provide for communities, over the next few blog posts we will be focusing on different communities in Washington and their relationships to outdoor spaces.
Earlier this December I connected with Teresa Bendito, a founding member of the Parque Padrinos (Park Godparents) from South Wenatchee, WA, about their newly renovated Kiwanis Methow Park. It was a wonderful conversation about how parks can provide the community with many services and safe gathering spaces, and how the Methow Park has become a place for the Parque Padrinos to support their community.
We quickly got to chatting about pre-pandemic life and how that feels like 5 years ago. She first took me back to early March 2020 when they were planning the grand opening of the Kiwanis Methow Community Park for May 10th, something her community had organized, fundraised, planned and worked so hard for in the past few years. But due to the pandemic they had to postpone their big celebration and shift gears.
CAITIE: What does Methow Park mean to you and the Parque Padrinos?
TERESA: Methow Park has always been a special place to our community and that it has become a safe place. That word has shifted during the pandemic. Before, it was a place where there were activities for families, and you could gather in larger groups. Now, safe has a new meaning for us: safe from a spread of a deadly virus, safe from gathering inside homes where you don’t have the capacity to social distance. Methow park is really, really important because it does serve the largest and densest neighborhood in Wenatchee and so many live in multi-family homes or homes that are broken up into 4 different apartments where it’s impossible to gather and socially distance. So to have this park basically be in your backyard and have everyone be able to access it with little to no barriers, is extremely important for the community and to keep people safe.
CAITIE: The pandemic hit right around the time of the grand opening of the Methow Park, what has your journey been like for the past 9 months?
TERESA: In March the Parque Padrinos were contacted by a public health official who was looking for grassroot organizations that were trusted by community members to help provide information and messaging in a culturally relevant way to the community in South Wenatchee. We were able to take the information from public health and began to meet in smaller groups in the park where we were able to social distance and provide information about COVID to our neighbors. The timing of the park renovation and completion was to the dot. Even though we weren’t able to use it for a big community celebration we were able to use it to keep our community safe and healthy and slow the spread of COVID because we were still able to provide education about how to stay safe. We also hosted guest speakers to talk about the COVID vaccine and the vaccine trial in Wenatchee. When the CDC came to Wenatchee this summer to do a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) study about the attitudes of our community around COVID they were able to use the park to host multiple focus group conversations with community members that work in the agriculture industry: the orchards and packing warehouses where we were seeing high infection rates.
CAITIE: Due to the pandemic I think a lot of people can now better understand and acknowledge that outdoor spaces can have a multitude of uses. Mainly because now they have had their own experience in using the outdoors differently, possibly to safely gather with friends and family, to garden with their neighbors, or to meet as a community.
TERESA: I certainly agree. In our case it has been about livelihood and still being able to reach our neighbors that may not receive the information in other places and since this is their neighborhood park, this is where they already go and feel safe. We have been setting up a pop-up table and having volunteers help our neighbors fill out the WA Immigrant Relief Fund applications. We weren’t able to go to peoples’ homes for safety reasons so it was wonderful to be able to have a safer space to help the community and minimize those barriers to receive this economic support that have been so deeply impacted.
The park has also been necessary for having conversations with our community about what safety looks like and what they need to be supported through the pandemic. We have been the trusted source to take their feedback of how COVID was impacting them and share this information in decision-making spaces to help them understand what our community is facing and what the needs of our community are.
CAITIE: Have you gotten any feedback from these spaces? Have you seen any solutions or received help?
TERESA: Yes, we were able to share that families were in huge need. If someone were to get sick and couldn’t work or file for unemployment how do they feed their family? One of the programs our County created, was a food delivery program called COVID-19 Emergency Food Assistance Program. If a family member is sick the program provides food for 14 days so the family can property quarantine and that was a program that came from sharing this information with our County Commissioners. It started off just in Chelan County but because of the success of the program and the impact it was making to keeping families at home and away from others, Douglas County began offering it as well.
CAITIE: That is a big resource for both Counties. Are there any programs that the Parque Padrinos will continue to utilize post pandemic?
TERESA: At the beginning of November we hosted a health and wellness fair at the park. We brought in a mobile clinic that provided free consultations and flu shots. Public Health and health insurance representatives, along with folks helping with Rental Assistance, COVID-19 Emergency Food Distribution, WA Immigrant Relief Fund, and Public Utilities Department Energy Assistance were also in attendance. It was a success even in the time of COVID, and we see this as something we will continue to provide post pandemic. As padrinos, we are stewards of the park, and if there is anything we can do to help the community and schedule it at the park rather than inside, that is something we are going to do from now on. If we want to do a focus group or a survey, instead of staying inside or sharing a link, we want to go to the park where our community is already at. This idea of meeting at the park has strengthened over the past 9 months and people have started to understand the importance of physically getting outside of the four walls of their office and going to where the community already is. So that is not necessarily a program, but a way of getting things done in a different way.
CAITIE: I love that shift in thinking and increasing more community interaction. Post pandemic, what are you most excited to do at the park?
TERESA: I’m most excited to be able to go on a mellow Tuesday night, and see the different activities happening at the same time. The community garden being used by neighbors, the farmers market in the evenings to connect people, the soccer field being used to full capacity, and a couple of musicians in the kiosko. Just being able to see it alive at any point. It’s alive now, but alive in a different way. So, what I’m most excited about isn’t necessarily all of us being able to be there at the same time, because I think that way of thinking has really shifted. The way we celebrate spaces isn’t just about when we are all there and can be with each other, but how we individually celebrate and interact in the space is just as important as a big community wide celebration.
CAITIE: That sounds amazing, I can’t wait for that Tuesday night. The park has so many special and thoughtful details and amenities, has there been a favorite this past summer?
TERESA: Pre-pandemic, our group knew the importance of being out in the outdoors, in the green spaces, and COVID really woke up a lot more people about that importance, and during the past 9 months it was even more important to have these spaces be accessible to all. The community garden in the park was so important for our community this year. For some of the neighbors it provided them with a commitment to go every day to water the plants and gave them a stronger connection to the land. They were able to be outside with their children and other neighbors in a socially distanced space which really helped their mental health. Being able to see things grow and flourish in the midst of all the chaos and division of the year was something we all needed.
I would like to send a big mahalo to Teresa for taking the time to chat with me, it was wonderful to hear about all of the programs and services the Parque Padrinos have been able to provide to their community through the use of Methow Park. It has also been inspiring to learn about their evolving practices to better engage and support their community members. The Parque Padrinos are currently working toward becoming a non-profit and Teresa said to be on the lookout for more information soon. You can also follow Parque Padrinos on Instagram or Facebook.