AEO associates share our commitment to doing better, being better and building a better world. We’re proud to spotlight our people who are making a real and lasting impact in their communities.
Meet Melissa Evans, Director – Aerie Production and regular volunteer at Joan of Arc Park in New York City. Since 2021, Melissa has spent her weekends beautifying the park and keeping the space clean for the local community. She’s sharing her favorite part of volunteering and how giving back has become a true labor of love.
How many years have you been volunteering at Joan of Arc Park? How did you come to be a volunteer there?
In April of 2021, I noticed a bird in the park scooping up a piece of cellophane to use in its nest construction – the effect of litter on our local wildlife really resonated. I knew the park had a volunteer group focused on gardening, and I connected with them to start cleaning the park on Saturday mornings while they work in the gardens. So it really all started with wanting better for local wildlife.
NYC has the most public space by acreage than any other city in the U..S, and only 0.8% of the city budget goes to parks. Most New Yorkers do not have yards, so the parks become our backyards. With so little public funding, these spaces need any help they can get for maintenance and upkeep. Joan of Arc Park is across the street from me, and I am there every day with my dog Ginger. I’ve now been picking up trash in the park for almost two years, keeping the space clean for the community (human, canine and avian!).
Why is volunteering at Joan of Arc Park important to you?
It has really become a labor of love for the neighborhood – those who use the lawn for picnics, kids out with parents playing ball, the many dogs and their owners who walk through the four block park daily. Having a beautiful outdoor space has a huge impact on our mental and physical health. This became so apparent during the pandemic, when we all just wanted to get outside!
How do you think that being an active participant in your community helps to Build a Better World?
You build a better world one day at a time, one place at a time, one person at a time. You cannot change the world alone, but you can influence your corner of it.
What are some of the benefits you have found in volunteering? What’s the best thing you’ve learned?
It has been rewarding to connect with neighbors, and occasionally reunite them with missing items I’ve found. I was able to rescue an injured bird there last summer (I’m still in it for the birds!). Most of all I have made some really wonderful friendships with my fellow park tenders and get to spend time with them every Saturday morning. I’ve learned that people discard some crazy stuff in the park! A flat panel TV, a set of golf clubs, a hot water heater, a Citibike, a vacuum cleaner, and even a desk. Mainly I’ve learned that it does not take much to have a positive impact on your community.