Meet our Amazing FOMP Volunteer: Alexis Franklin

“If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself. Something to repair tears in your community. Something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you. That’s what a meaningful life is – living not for oneself, but for one’s community.” -Ruth Bader Ginsburg

What did you love about volunteering in McMichael Park?

I love seeing results. Over time this derelict space became the jewel of the East Falls neighborhood. Restoration and preservation was always what the group, later to become The Friends, had in mind. And now, 30 years later, the legacy of that transformation is apparent. In addition, it is always great to see neighbors working together for a common cause. We were always happy to collaborate with various groups as well: Tree Keepers, Power Corp., The William Penn Charter School, the Boy Scouts of America, Thomas Mifflin Elementary School, East Falls Tree Tenders, Bartram Gardens, PHS, Philly Tree, Parks on Tap, Jefferson University — even when it was Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science and then Philadelphia University — and we can never forget the Women’s Medical College & Hospital (MCP).

What volunteer moment are you are most proud of?

I have many proud moments: One year, I received a generous donation from Home Depot of 60 bags of mulch. They even gave me a truck to drive the bags from Plymouth Meeting to McMichael Park. As I headed down Ridge Pike I questioned whether truck driving was on my bucket list. I made it to McMichael Park safely but what I did not know was exactly how dump trucks worked. I thought you pushed a button and the back of the truck lifted and dumped. Not the case! The truck had to manually have each side removed and bags of mulch had to be individually unloaded. As I looked up in the heavens confused and in despair, it started to rain. My helplessness must have been obvious because several park side neighbors came out of their houses and started helping me unload. We were done in 15 minutes. Spontaneous and impromptu teamwork. This is the essence of our Friends and Neighbors. Right there. Always.

In 1994, Hilary Langer donated an evergreen tree from his back yard. We transplanted this three footer in front of the War Memorial, replacing a tree that had died. Today it towers over 30 feet. This was one of the early plantings of trees that the FOMP were able to provide to keep the McMichael Park canopy green.

In 1996, the East Falls Community felt very strongly about having a historical marker dedicated to memory of our namesake Morton McMichael. We had applied to the Commonwealth, but sadly it was determined he was too local. The Community stepped up and decided to fund our own, which is installed at the corner of McMichael Street and Midvale Avenue. Working together, always. It made it easier to accomplish what we needed, and volunteering for a cause is a great way to bring people together.

Alexis Franklin (right) with then Mayor Edward G. Rendell and the Union League Glee Club. Morton McMichael was one of the founders of the Union League of Philadelphia. Photo: October 1996
There was quite a turn out for the unveiling that October Day…Mayor Edward G. Rendell, and Councilman Michael Nutter. East Falls Community Council President, George Magnatta, East Falls Business Association President, Roberta Ginsburg, Pastor William De Heyman from Redeemer Lutheran, Alice Reiff from Friends of Inn Yard, Julie Camburn from the Fallser Newspaper and Mimi Winder Halloway whose garden still stands at this same corner.

I am also very proud that I was able to conceive and bring together Commonwealth Classic Theatre productions. “Free” theater in McMichael Park started in 2008 with William Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” Always hard to gauge what kind of attendance this was going to bring, but I thought it was worth taking the chance. People came from all sections of the city. Families, church groups, friends, neighbors, Shakespeare buffs, actors and theatre aficionado’s. Picnics, lawn chairs, and strollers were part of the night too. When I saw children leaving at the end of the show repeating the dialogue, I knew we had reached the neighbors and friends. Proud that we could offer these free productions. Through grants and fundraising, not the Globe, but pretty close to the original intent to provide free theatre to all people.

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

As coordinator of The Friends of McMichael Park, I have endeavored to supplement McMichael Park’s needs; but there are some always elements and situations that are over and above what we can do as a Friends group. The restoration of the War Memorial took some time with advocacy and grant writing. Major tree removal or large limb pruning are just two areas that are very challenging. Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) is not always funded or has the available resources to do the work either. One arborist. One machine. Critical and sometimes urgent work is wait listed unless they are deemed dangerous. I must constantly advocate for challenging park work that becomes a time consuming process.

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

I have been volunteering in McMichael Park since the very beginning. And these 30 years have gone by so quickly. My community service begins before that, as I served as the Treasurer of the East Falls Community Council for 10 years. I moved on to chair the inaugural East Falls Festival and first East Falls Flea Market. At the time, McMichael Park was NOT getting “any” city services. As a matter of fact it was a visual and environmental eyesore. When a “drug buy” went bad, ending up in a fatality, I decided to focus on one thing: McMichael Park. I was joined by two early advocates of The Friends, Tom Williams and Keith Shively. As I posted signs along the park that stated, “The Turtle needs a friend.” We set a meeting date and 95 people showed up at the meeting. Others recognized the “green” potential of McMichael Park, and the neighbors became Friends, volunteered, donated, and got their hands dirty! We got the grass cut regularly and trees pruned through various grants. We sold daffodil bulbs, tee shirts, raffled baskets, sold tote bags, and ultimately I created the very successful, Love Lights. I met lots of neighbors, friends, and their children … and now their grandchildren. It is always wonderful and endearing to have family participation. Giving back is a nurtured experience and must be taught and learned.

What advice do you have for other friends/volunteers?

Commit! Don’t just watch and sit on the sidelines. The Commissioner challenged the neighborhood recently: batter up! Be a part of the team. No need to start another team, this is the team, and there is only one victory: the preservation of McMichael Park. My volunteer efforts were not done alone. One thing I’ve learned and espoused is that it takes not only a village but many, many neighbors to step forward over time and as a resident of this community “pitch in” “contribute” “get involved” . I firmly believe it is a lot more fun when you get that sense of camaraderie.

When you volunteer “all together.”

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