Meet our Amazing FOMP Volunteers: Robert Rabinowitz and Donna Boling


Whatever you can do, or dream you can… begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
— Goethe 

Robert Rabinowitz in McMichael Park/northeast corner where he adopted and tends his garden bed.

What did you love about volunteering in McMichael Park?

I made McMichael Park more personally mine by adopting a space on the northeast corner of the park as an area that I would plant and maintain. That was made more personal when the small stone blocks were donated to the park and assembled by the Friends into a circle around the plot. Frankly, now I look at what is becoming somewhat overgrown and, with a shrug containing resentment and personal loss, walk past. I suspect though that, now being an old dog, the new trick of ignoring what needs tending will lose to what has become both a meditation and habit.


What volunteer moment are you most proud of?

The transition from building 12, section B, apartment 2C in New York in 1968 to a single 3 story West Mt Airy home with a fruit bearing apple tree in a spacious backyard, and then to East Falls immediately wedded me to open space and greenery. So, with Gabrielle at 18 months of age and committed to putting most things in her mouth, running wildly until she tripped and fell, and wanting to pet every dog in sight, though only from the rear which made the dogs constantly spin and turn until they tired of what was perceived by them as a new game, we began by following her lead and then transitioning to building fairy houses, learning the names of the dogs, throwing and sometimes catching balls while, unerringly, causing me to run since, no matter how pure her motives, the toss always went to where I wasn’t. As a family we often walked through and sat in the park and never tiring, at least I didn’t, of commenting on the unbelievability of living where we did (do).

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome regarding being a park volunteer?  

We moved to Coulter Street when almost every house had a basketball hoop without the presence of any domiciled teens to use them. McMichael Park had begun to become the tranquil green space that it is today, sorrowfully though not for long, yet was still, kindly put, a rough presence. One problem with the McMichael Street side of the park was that the late night activities left lots of glassine envelopes scattered along the curb in the morning. That changed dramatically when the junior Rendell entered Penn Charter and the circling marked and unmarked police cars did, at a minimum, reduce the curbside trash. 

How many years did you volunteer in McMichael Park and what inspired you to keep participating?

When, in 1992, when Donna, Gabrielle, and I moved from Indian Queen Lane to Coulter Street, a move of several blocks and an equal number of attitudinal light years regarding the presence of a child of color, an attitude that thankfully has shifted away from secretly scheduling Halloween Trick or Treat Night when only we and our children would come knocking.

In short order, and I don’t recall whether it was under direct threat from Alexis or perhaps a more generous charitable motive that propelled both Donna and me to become, both with small and capital F’s, (f)Friends of McMichael Park. The word “propelled” in the last sentence gives some inclination that the motivation to begin working in and with the park was not totally an internally motivated decision. Once started, however, McMichael Park became a sacred place. To me, it was never a passive green space. The maintenance activity of planting, raking, digging, sawing and concern for the park, made me one of keepers of something between a neighborhood space and an eden; though it is possible to make the expulsion from the latter a metaphor for the snake offering planned changes to a truly an idyllic space, a symbolic apple. And, as an afterthought, whenever a “real” playground was desired, and this did happen on some weekends, we had ample choices. 

What advice do you have for other friends/volunteers?

I think sometimes of the neighbors and (f)Friends who have moved away or died, of the time with and in the park and smile and of what might possibly have been the last time for throwing Valentine lights over tree branches while hoping that the ladder doesn’t slip out from under me. It has been a wonderful trip.  

Robert (seated 2nd from right) and Donna Boling (standing 4th from right) joining the Friends of McMichael Park on Love Your Park day in May 2014. Photo was for the Fallser newspaper which was celebrating their 20th anniversary. #FOMP30

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