The Early Days
The Parks & People Foundation was founded by four-term Baltimore Mayor, William Donald Schaefer in 1984 to address the unique and challenging problems of a large, older, urban recreation and parks system. His vision for Baltimore included public/private partnerships to improve city life, and Parks & People was created with tireless volunteer, Sally Michel, and the Director of the Department of Recreation and Parks, Chris Delaporte. The Foundation was formed to raise and manage funds, develop new programs, explore opportunities with entrepreneurs and leverage in-kind resources and otherwise lessen the burdens on the government of Baltimore City in providing for the welfare of all of its citizens through a system of parks and recreation facilities for their use.
Some of the early projects that Parks & People spearheaded included: the celebration of the 125th birthday of Druid Hill Park with a land design competition that funded the Druid Hill Park master plan that is still currently in use; a groundbreaking report on recreation centers titled “Meeting the Challenge: A Plan of Action for the Baltimore City Recreation Centers”; and bringing the first urban Outward Bound program to Baltimore.
A New Approach to Community Forestry
In 1989, the Parks & People Foundation in partnership with Yale University and the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks developed the Urban Resources Initiative (URI) to engage talented college and graduate students to work with Baltimore neighborhoods to find innovative solutions to environmental issues. URI has evolved into the “research and development arm” for recreation and parks issues in Baltimore hosting over 140 interns and initiating many projects which today are fully staffed and funded programs at Parks & People.
URI projects include the feasibility study for Baltimore’s Gwynns Falls Trail which is now a complete 15 -mile urban hiking and biking trail and the development of Parks & People’s Green Career Ladder which engages young people at every level in the study of our urban environment. The URI approach to community forestry in Baltimore interested the U.S. Forest Service who recognized Baltimore for effectively managing its urban forest in a very different way than other communities. With support from the U.S. Forest Service and many other private and public funders, the Parks & People Foundation developed a national model for urban and community forestry. This investment in our work and the importance of the URI interns continues today.
Motivating Youth Through Enriching Activities
Beginning in 1992, the Parks & People Foundation began developing recreation programs to engage young people in safe, healthy and meaningful activities in their communities. Starting with sports programs that offer opportunities for young people to learn the values of teamwork and fair play, Parks & People introduced baseball, soccer, volleyball and lacrosse to inner city youth. Since 1992, over 30,000 young people have played a sport in a Parks & People league.
In 1997, in response to the early literacy crisis in Baltimore the Parks & People Foundation, along with a host of public and private sector sponsors, began a pilot program called Super Camp. Led by Parks & People’s founder, Sally Michel, the concept was simple – offer young people exciting, literacy-based educational opportunities during the summer so they do not fall behind in their reading skills. Over the years, the program has evolved from a small pilot into SuperKids Camp which has served over 17,000 Baltimore City children to date.
Throughout its history, the volunteers and staff of the Parks & People Foundation have worked hard to improve the environmental, physical and social health of Baltimore. Whether through literacy camps, enriching after school environmental education programs or tree planting in underserved communities, Parks & People’s work continues.
The work continues through a unique collection of partnerships and the hard work of volunteers at every level of the organization. Parks & People is creating real and sustainable change in Baltimore neighborhoods.