Meet our Amazing FOMP Volunteer: John-david Franklin

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” – Benjamin Franklin

What did you love about volunteering in McMichael Park?

            I have been an advocate of environmental consciousness for all of my adult life.  Having grown up in a culture of volunteerism and “save the planet,” green space is a neighborhood imperative.  McMichael Park is a haven of green, peace, and calm in an otherwise confused and chaotic world. Living in the city, East Falls is the natural green space outside of Center City.  Throughout the 40 years I lived in East Falls, it was essential and basically a requirement that “giving back” is the most important part of community engagement.  Do I love the obligation? Absolutely, with steadfast determination we must preserve the green canopy and by default McMichael was my green space, open air center, of choice.

What volunteer moment are you are most proud of?

         Where to start? The very first clean up? Bob Brano, a former neighbor and early member of the Friends, and I literally mowed the grass in the Park. The first plantings? Digging tree pits and watching these saplings mature and contribute to the green canopy. I was a founding member of the Development Corporation and we literally created the Flea Market. Got my old band back together and we played at one of the Park events. All the “Love-Your-Park” events? Lovelights? The Hymn Sing? The Pumpkin Labyrinth? Shakespeare and providing “free” theatre! The parades? Especially the baby parades! Most memorable? For me it was cleaning up the War Memorial and putting out Flags on Flag Day.  I distinctly remember 9/11 and its subsequent anniversaries.  Many times I would stand in front of our most impressive and iconic memorial architecture and consider all of our neighbors, friends, and family whose memory is embodied with those stones.

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

            Challenges are not overcome individually and so the teamwork and collaboration of the many is vital and necessary. We have endured natural and manmade catastrophe’s, but all-in-all The Friends have remained strong and determined. I do see a challenge and that is something that all groups face: training the next generation, whether X, Y, or Z, and a beneficial succession plan. McMichael Park is one a very few green gems in our City.  Other Parks and Friends groups have deep pockets and considerable endowments.  Ours is a labor of love.  In the eyes of Parks & Recreation, The Friends of McMichael Park is notable, well respected in City Hall and the Municipal Services Building, and the case study for open space and park management.  With the budget short falls from COVID anyone or group who was expecting funding may not get funding of any kind.

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

            After almost 40 years in the proverbial flower beds, I realized that conservation means protection and sustainability equates to responsibility to the environment. The corner of Henry and Coulter was an eyesore when I started helping the Friends.  And so, assessing the magnitude of the cleanup, the engagement of the then Department of Recreation and the Fairmount Park Commission, I volunteered, cleaned up the corner and continued to provide the necessary sweat equity that was required. Many followed, stayed, and look at what we have today!

What advice do you have for other friends/volunteers?

            We are facing a future with the “blankest” canvas we could ever imagine. But also, COVID-19 catapulted us into the reality that was inevitable. There is no money; hence, dig deeper, literally and proverbially, and get your back into it. There will be a prolonged time of limited resources; hence, cultivate a new generation of volunteers (very hard, but necessary). No idea is a bad idea. Time for new thinking and methodologies.

            We are not social theorists, political pundits, or epidemiologists. That goes without saying, but the words of Benjamin Franklin ring true today as they did in the 18th century: “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”