February 3, 2014

It Ain’t All a Walk in the Park for Alison Tocci

Alison Tocci’s Central Park office in the Arsenal building overlooks the gorgeous park (and daily sea lion shows). But Alison realizes that Central Park is only one of the nearly 2,000 parks in the New York City area, and most of them are in dire need of help.

Alison Tocci, President of City Parks Foundation in Central Park, New York City.Alison Tocci, President of City Parks Foundation in Central Park, New York City.

That’s where City Parks Foundation comes in. Since 2011, Alison has led the only non-profit organization in New York to offer free art, sports, education and community-building programs to over 600,000 people in parks across all five boroughs. Each day, she strives to drive awareness and raise the funds necessary to turn these parks into safe spaces for all to enjoy.

We sat down with Alison to get some insight into how she and City Parks Foundation are making New York City a better place to live.

Zipcar: Tell us a little about City Parks Foundation.

Alison: Our underlying belief is that by offering free programs and activities in parks, these spaces act as gathering spots for kids and adults to come together.  Ultimately these people begin to create communities and build neighborhoods, which contributes to the quality of life for all of the folks who live around that park. Although we operate throughout the five boroughs, we primarily focus on high need areas. These are parks that may not have wealthy donors living around the park or access to resources that you may find in say, Central Park.

What challenges do you face?

Funding is always a challenge. We have to raise $10 million just to do what we do, so there’s a constant need to fundraise. Parks are living spaces, so they always need to be maintained. It’s not like you plant a tree and then you’re done. Super Storm Sandy showed us that in a big way! Trees fell down, structures fell down and all that needs to be rebuilt.

In addition, there are close to 2,000 parks in New York City. We are able to work in hundreds of those parks, but we would love to work in all of them. Many that are in less well-known neighborhoods and in high-need areas are kind of out of sight and out of mind, but we need to find a way to let folks know that those parks are just as, if not more, important.

What else do you want people to know?

As cities become larger and people move into urban areas, open space becomes even more precious and important. We need to help people remember that the kinds of parks the City Parks Foundation serve are used by kids and families who don’t have a second home or the ability to go to summer camps. The parks are their second homes and summer camps and their way to get outside. We hope that people will keep that in mind and consider giving back through the organization.

How can people get involved?

We have a huge corporate volunteer program where we work with companies to organize community service projects.  And of course people can always volunteer on an individual basis if they just want to help out.

Want to help keep NYC green? Check out what City Parks Foundation is doing and ways you can get involved: www.cityparksfoundation.org