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posted October 6, 2006

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WHAT CITY RECREATION STAFF DO AT DUFFERIN GROVE PARK

From the Park Newsletter, 2005:

MEDIA WATCH: IS THE PARK RUN BY VOLUNTEERS? From time to time there is some news about the park in the papers. Last month it popped up in both the Globe and Mail and the National Post, and NOW Magazine ran a piece by park regular Mike Smith. Smith reported on a City-initiated meeting that almost filled St.Mary’s High School cafeteria on November 7, to consider how the park is organized, and he gave a rundown on the benefits or drawbacks of various volunteer structures for running a park.

What was not discussed at that meeting – and therefore not evident in the NOW article – is the fact that Dufferin Grove Park is not run by volunteers. It’s run by park staff, i.e. 12 part-timers now that the winter season has begun. In general the park staff try to work so closely with park users that when somebody like Georgie Donais comes along and offers to build a cob courtyard, their answer is: How can we help make it happen?

AboutUs-Photos:Lily01.jpg | Lily Weston laid the groundwork

And not only big projects get that treatment from the park staff. The staff are so willing to experiment that almost any approach, any idea, can be tried out if it has a champion (adult or child) and if the time is right. But of course the park also has its regular seasons and routines and programs.

Recreation supervisor Tino DeCastro, and his manager James Dann and a small list of other city staff, collaborated with an outsider, Jutta Mason, over years to allow the existing staff culture to develop. The leading idea for the park was friendship: how can people find friends in a city of so many strangers? How can public space become a place of introduction, where neighbours can watch and become familiar with one another across class, race, money or age boundaries? How can a park be staffed in such a way that neighborly gifts can be magnified?

The answer is, with a lot of clean-up work, day after day. The busier the park gets, the more messes there are to deal with, both of litter and of human troubles. The park staff work hard to create and keep an orderly park, for the various neighborhood dramas to play out. Keeping the park sweet is a task resembling an iceberg, with only the tip being obvious, but a big support section underneath (where you can’t see it very well). The staff’s work ranges from cleaning the toilets to programming the web site, and from cooking huge suppers to going to court for vandalism follow-up. Often the staff have to run pretty fast to keep up, but they usually seem to be cheerful anyway. It’s good work! And their close collaboration with park users is often surprising and interesting.

Sometimes the park staff are a bit mystified, though, when they hear talk about how the park is run by volunteers. It isn’t. That’s the beauty of your taxes: one way to put taxes to good use is to pay people for doing good work.

GOOD ORDER

1. Every day running of the wading pool which includes:

AboutUs-Photos:BoyleInstructsStaff.jpg | Director instructing staff 2006

- Sweeping out and hosing down the pool

- Filling the pool

- Monitoring the chlorine and pH levels of the water

- Supervising the pool at all times

- Liaison with the many visiting day camps

- Approaching new playground/pool/sand-pit users, making sure strangers feel comfortable

- Introducing people to each other

- Maintaining and replacing the water toys

- Putting out, collecting and replacing toys, chess and checkers, books and magazines around the pool

From the Park Newsletter:

WADING POOL HOURS, THE SANDPIT, AND OTHER PARK FUN The wading pool is open every day from about 11.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or until 7 if it’s over 28 degrees). Bring water toys but please leave the squirt guns at home. The sandpit is always open. If you and your kids are frequent early-morning sandpit visitors, you can ask the staff for your own key to the lockup box, so you can take out the equipment when you arrive. No need to put it away when you leave, but please: last person to leave the sandpit in the evening, turn off the tap!

Crafts materials are set out most days beside the wading pool. On Wednesday afternoon park staff Bianca runs clay-building; on Thursday afternoon kids can cook flapjacks over a campfire with par staff Caitlin; on Saturday afternoon, park staff Eroca sets up the tile-painting table (the tiles are all going to be part of the cob courtyard mosaics); and on Sundays, Eroca (who is a dancer) does “beach blanket bingo” – dancing and bingo by the wading pool. Park staff also lend out balls (basketballs, volleyballs, footballs), but you have to leave collateral. Chess and checkers are set up by the yurt near the wading pool.

From the Park Newsletter:

SAND PIT AND PLAYGROUND RULES OF CONDUCT: Some new little signs have gone up in the playground, saying "adults must be accompanied by a child under twelve." There's a park by-law that prevents teenagers, for example, from taking over a playground as the St.Mary's students sometimes do. (Some teenagers think they're still kids, but they are too big and rowdy to play alongside little kids.) So - if you're there with kids and there are some 15-year olds taking up all the swings (or drinking in the rain shelter) you don't have to grin and bear it. Point out the signs to them, and if they have trouble grasping the meaning, speak to the park staff.

Note also that the sand pit has real shovels in it because it was intended as a play area for older children. Little kids can play there too, but if their caregivers are anxious about their safety, please remove the little ones to the small sand box. At the same time, any children who use shovels carelessly should be asked to be more careful, and if there is still a concern, they should have their shovel removed. Staff will help, but if no staff are there, any adult nearby should get involved. Happily, the sand pit has just passed its twelfth year, with a very impressive safety record, because most kids are unbelievably smart, and they want to play, not to hurt each other. Also lots of adults know how to prevent trouble. And then there are about fourteen invisible guardian angels on the lookout as well - how else to explain that the sandpit works so well?)

AboutUs-Photos:ZioAndZen04.jpg | Zio the playground lead staff

2. Upkeep of playground which includes:

- checking playground for hazards, removing any dangers or putting in work orders

- weekly digging under all climbers to soften the ground to CSA specifications

- litter-picking twice daily or more

- sorting and replacing playground toys

- introducing new people to their neighbours or playmates (if kids)

3. Up-keep of the gardens, composts, and park trees which includes working with volunteers to do:

AboutUs-Photos:jenny.jpg | Jenny 2006

- Planting

- Weeding

- Mulching trees that show signs of stress

- Building composts

- Picking litter in all the (9) community gardens (Local 416 won’t)

- Watering, including watering trees during drought periods

- Seeing to the continuous up-keep of the garden fences

- Giving out information about the Sunday “garden parties,” giving out plant information

From the Park Newsletter:

TREES IN DROUGHT After we noticed that the only new tree planted by Forestry in many years seems to be dying, park staff and volunteers have gone into tree-rescue mode. In the second week of August the wading pool staff put garden hoses on in the park around the clock, trickling water beside tree after tree, focusing on the young trees which are more vulnerable. If you see that a puddle is collecting around one tree, feel free to nudge the hose to a nearby tree – we’re lucky we have enough water in the Toronto water system to save the trees.

4. Upkeep of park and spring fall rink house cleaning/organizing which includes:

AboutUs-Photos:Coreyfixing.jpg | Corey 2006

- Monitoring state of paths, trees and park furniture and alerting the city to areas that need attention, also working with volunteers to do minor repairs and painting if Maintenance can’t get around to it

- In fall, readying the park for winter by cleaning and organizing sheds; in spring, clearing up the winter’s jumble in the rink house and getting all supplies, equipment ready for warm weather

5. Running the rink, which includes:

- Daily cleaning and upkeep of every part of the rink-house

- Daily attention to the state of the ice and upkeep around the outside rink area

- Phoning in and following up on work-orders related to all aspects of the building and the park (127 work orders called in followed up in 2005)

- Inventory of all supplies and ordering and or buying new ones

- Updating the message and getting the information for the rink hotline

- Enforcing the rules of the rink

- Co-ordinating the efforts of various volunteers

- Assisting with ice maintenance

- Administering first aid

6. Doing a rink cluster experiment which includes:

- visiting every rink in the city to find out how things are run in other places and start communicating with other rink staff

- specifically visiting the two closest rinks (Campbell and Wallace) on a regular basis

- Getting to know the on-site staff at those two rinks, some staff training there

- Setting up regular barrel fires, with free hot dogs and marshmallows, at both those rinks

- Running a free skating class at Campbell

- Helping to run Women’s shinny hours smoothly at Wallace

- Following up on youth behaviour at Wallace

From the Park Newsletter:

BAD LANGUAGE AND OTHER SINS AT THE RINK “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” That’s how the saying goes, but at our rink there is a by-law against swearing, and another one against making threats. Here are some of the other rules: lounging around in the rink house corners trying to look like a gangster, isn’t allowed, and neither is lengthy public kissing or hugging with one’s sweetheart. People are not allowed to get into a fight, and they can’t urge other people to fight each other either, no matter how “Canadian” that kind of approach is in hockey. People can’t use the front entryway as a place to cluster with their friends and make loud jokes or say rude things to each other. On the ice, people can’t smoke (anything), or play bumper cars with the learn-to-skate chairs, or skate under the lift gate when it’s being raised for the zamboni (it can fall down if it’s unsecured, and squash a person). Groups can’t play chasing games on the pleasure-skating rink unless the rink has no other skaters at all, and older shinny hockey players are not allowed to play hockey during the younger kids’ shinny time. Above all, nobody can tell a staff person to get lost if they ask them to follow the rules.

The penalties are: for breaking one of the rules, one or two warnings, then out for the day. For refusing a staff request: out for the day right away, no warnings. For refusing a request to leave for the day: out for many days, until the person books an interview with Tino DeCastro, our area parks supervisor. If they miss the interview: out for the season. In some cases of rule-breaking, the bad guy/gal may be asked to work some community hours (picking litter or washing dishes or shovelling snow) to get back into the staff’s good graces.

And if a rink user has been banned and then comes back after the ban is over, the rule is: no hard feelings. The returning rink user starts again with a clean slate. Over the years, there have been many people who got in trouble at the rink, sometimes in a lot of trouble. Then they grew up a bit. Many came back to play hockey to their heart’s content. Some have become great friends of the rink and are a pleasure to be with. They are the deep-down reason for this rink – showing that people can surprise each other, and that ill will can turn into respect and even friendship, more often than one would think.

PARK HOSPITALITY

1. Running the playground food cart which includes

- Preparing coffee, lemonade, cookies, salads and any special foods, all of this in the zamboni kitchen at the rink house, following public health rules

- Bringing down the food cart, setting out the food

- Washing all dishes and keeping the outdoor cob kitchen and food cart in a good state of cleanliness

- Using the food cart/ outdoor cob kitchen as a “front” to get to know park users, give information

- Using the food cart as a placement for youth (and sometimes adults) to do their court-ordered community service hours

2. Organizing weekly community supper which includes:

AboutUs-Photos:erocadanceFNS06.jpg | Eroca leading kids' dancing after supper 2006

- Planning a menu

- Sourcing and purchasing food

- Cooking for large volumes of people

- Setting up tables, chairs, and all necessary dining implements, toys and balls for kids

- Serving a large volume of people, introducing new people to their neighbours

From the Park Newsletter:

Here’s how becoming a more active park friend works: if you want to put something into the park that isn’t there now, or help out with some existing element you like – a new garden, an old garden, a concert, a cricket mat, a playground cob wall – find a park staff person and talk to them about your idea. (The spring-summer staff are Zio Hersh, Matt Leitold, Dan Malloy, Eroca Nicols, Caitlin Shea, Mayssan Shuja Uddin, Mary Sylwester, and Amy Withers). If you can’t find the staff around the park, you can leave them a message at 416 392-0913, and one of them will call you back. Or you can e-mail them at staff@dufferinpark.ca. The staff will try to remove any blocks you might encounter, and introduce you to other park friends. You can go ahead and try the project you’re inspired to do – just remember to start small. Then if your project doesn’t work – no problem. But if your talents bear fruit, you can keep growing what you’ve begun, maybe with other park friends who want to help you.

3. Running Pizza days which includes:

AboutUs-Photos:MayssanPizza.jpg | Mayssan and visiting kids 2006

- Purchasing cheese and sauce

- Preparing pizza dough

- Loading the oven and lighting a fire several hours in advance

- Bringing out tables and keeping them clean, keeping the whole operation within public health guidelines

- Setting up the play areas for kids

- Rolling out dough

- Bringing out all pizza supplies as well as cookies and refreshments

- Manning the pizza oven and helping people make their pizzas, including helping kids pick their own toppings in the children’s gardens

- Introducing people to each other

From the Park Newsletter:

Pizza days – during June, pizza days will be on Wednesdays from 12 to 2 and Sundays from 1 to 3. For $2 a portion, you can buy a small lump of organic pizza dough, sauce, and cheese, and make your own pizza in the oven (staff help you bake it). You can pick toppings in the park gardens to put on as well, or bring extra toppings from home. A very nice way to meet new neighbours or get together with friends.

If you want to include pizza at the oven in a birthday party, that’s possible on Sundays between 11.30 and 1 and from 3 to 4. You can book it with park staff Mayssan Shuja at 416 392-0913. The staff cost is $36 extra on top of the pizza cost of $2 per pizza. If you have more than forty people, that will need an extra staff person for another $18. To find out more, call the park or go to the web site at www.dufferinpark.ca and click on “bake ovens and food.”

Picnics: now that the weather is warm again, the park is sometimes full of picnics and family celebrations. There are plenty of picnic tables – feel free to move them to where you need them, but if you take them far from where they were, please move them back afterwards (especially tables taken from the oven and the wading pool area).

4. Looking after the rink house, which includes:

AboutUs-Photos:Aileen.jpg | Aileen and youth helpers 1998

- Administering fire permits, birthday parties and other special rink season events

- Putting out, collecting and replacing toys, chess and checkers, books and magazines in the rinkhouse

- Approaching new rink users, making sure strangers feel comfortable

- Administering local youth hockey permits and co-ordinating all other permits

- Running the zamboni café, so there’s cheap, nutritious food but also as a “front” for staff to make connections with youth, people with young children, kids at the rink on their own, new rink users, etc., also as an information post

- Basic every day running of the zamboni snack bar includes: Preparing coffee, hot chocolate, cookies, mini-pizzas perogies, soup and any special foods

- Washing a lot of dishes and keeping the kitchen and snack bar in a good state of cleanliness to meet public health standards

- Friday Night Suppers at the rinkhouse – to build a stronger neighborhood but also to support families with young children

From the Park Newsletter:

FOOD COSTS:The price list at the Zamboni café reflects how much money we need to pay for the materials that went into the food, plus a bit extra for other park uses. But if your grocery money is tight, but you and your kids are hungry after skating, even the cheap snack bar food prices may add up too fast.

If you’re hungry, but you can’t pay as much for the snack bar food, pay less. Park staff also like to do trades – if you can do something for the park (help shovel after a snowstorm, wash dishes, sort tools in the tool cupboard, break up wooden skids for the bread ovens) the park staff will tell you your money won’t work at the snack bar, and you have to eat for free. That goes for kids too.

On the other hand, if you find the food very cheap and good and think it should cost more, pay more. Every penny goes to the park.

From the Park Newsletter:

DUFFERIN RINK REGULAR AND HOLIDAY HOURS

The rink is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., shinny hockey on the north pad, pleasure-skating only on the south pad until the rink house closes. After the rink house closes, there is shinny hockey (including permits) on both sides until 11 p.m. See the shinny schedule at the centre of this newsletter. After 11 p.m. the gates are locked.

The “Zamboni Café” snack bar is serving even better food than last year; the wood stove is going and the kids’ storybooks are on the shelf beside it; the zamboni’s snow hills by the basketball court are good for climbing and making snow sculptures; the campfire will be lit outside by the rink every weekend, with benches all around; the NHL Player’s Association skates are available for borrowing (bring good I.D.); Mayssan’s skating lessons began on December 15, with a hockey option for those who want – the joys of winter are at the park.

From the Park Newsletter:

FOOD IN THE PARK

Friday Night Suppers have resumed (6 to 7.30 p.m. on Fridays at the rink house, $6 for the main plate, no reservations necessary, $1 less if you bring your own dishes). Also, seven days a week, the “Zamboni Café” snack bar will be serving substantial winter soups, sandwiches with park oven bread, organic hot dogs, mini-pizzas, and various sweets including park cookies. On weekends there may be more.

SPECIAL PROGRAMMING

1. Skate lending:

- Taking an inventory of the initial skate and hockey equipment donation

- Spray-painting and numbering all equipment

- Setting up shelving to keep the new equipment

- Developing a system for skate rental

- Contacting all schools and daycares in the neighbourhood in order to inform them about our new wealth

- Making signs and alerting people to the existence of the new equipment

- Collecting collateral and administrating the loans

- Taking continuous stock of the equipment -- skates needing sharpening, laces, insoles, sticks need replacement – and keeping the rental room in a state of good order (since it’s also the water-heater room for the zamboni)

2. Year-round running of a park farmers’ market which includes:

- Upkeep and purchase of vending tables

- Liaison with the market manager, public health, by-law and various other inspectors/officials

- Helping with the weekly set-up and take-down of the market

- Giving information about the market throughout the rest of the week

- Running a special market snack bar with additional food

- Running a bread vending table

- Baking bread in the outdoor ovens, including teaching community people who want to learn about outdoor bread ovens

3. Helping with the cob courtyard structure which includes:

- Learning about every aspect of building with cob (and participating)

- Helping to set up a shed and a “yard” for the building project

- Keeping that area clean and orderly

- Supplying the volunteers with food and refreshments

- Supplying childcare for the volunteers

- Co-ordinating the volunteer efforts

- Checking up on the structure on a daily basis once the building was completed

- Repairing or co-ordinating the repairs due to weather and vandalism

4. Supervising park fire permits (174 in 2005), which includes:

AboutUs-Photos:AnnaFire.jpg | Anna 2006

- booking permits, scheduling and carrying out fire safety training sessions

-monitoring the condition of the firesites, removing debris

- supplying the permit holders with water and shovels

- monitoring their fire set-up, reviewing safety rules if necessary

- follow up to make sure everything went well, fire was put out, park equipment was returned

From the Park Newsletter:

CAMPFIRES AT THE PARK

The park has a year-round fire permit, so gathering around a campfire with your friends is pretty easy. These are the rules: if you want to borrow the permit, you need to have a little campfire training session with one of the park staff, during staff hours (staff always stay late on Wednesdays and Thursdays, if daytimes are no good for you). It takes about 15 minutes to go over everything. At that time you can also let the staff know where you plan to have the fire (there are three possible fire sites).

You need to bring your own firewood but the staff can usually give you some kindling if you like. They'll give you two pails of water and a shovel, which have to be returned to the rink house at the end of your fire. The person who signs the permit takes full legal responsibility for any injury -- there's a waiver that you'll have to sign. (But people are pretty smart about fires – in 11 years of frequent park campfires, we’ve not yet had an injury.) We ask you for a donation of $10, just to cover staff time. To book, call the park at 416 392-0913.

5. Putting up and maintaining the yurt as a gathering place and reading tent, which includes:

- Acquiring expertise in the obscure art of setting up a nomadic desert dwelling (through much trial and error)

- Maintaining the structure through rains

- Decorating the yurt

- Fixing parts of the structure, from sag or vandalism damage

- Cleaning it out on a daily basis, sorting books, keeping chairs, storage boxes, etc. in good order

- Taking it down, drying out the felts, storing it

6. Liaison with special programs externally generated:

- school picnics (5)

- Toronto Youth council picnic

- Art day camps (4)

- Rehearsals (19)

- Bake-oven picnics (24) and pizza parties (34)

- Soccer club car washes (14)

- Ice hockey permits including single-occasion and school permits (60)

SPECIAL EVENTS

AboutUs-Photos:MaryTedTastingFair06.jpg | Mary and Ted staff the Tasting Fair 2006

Hosting/liaison for 2005 special public events which included:

February: Bike's on Ice Race, “Puppets on Ice”

March: Two cob information/preparation Friday Night Suppers, one gardening friends Friday Night Supper

April: April Fools’ park friends appreciation supper, Anne and Ron’s park oven matza bake day for Passover, Earth Day cob wall picnic and movie night

May: David Miller's 20 minute makeover day, annual lawyers’ charity ball hockey tournament

June: Laura Repos’ Little Folk Festival (big), Clay and Paper Theatre’s Day of Delight, Cooking Fire Theatre Festival (five days), Refugee Camp Awareness Concert, Councillor Adam Giambrone's Summerfest, Community BBQ regarding youth prisons, Career Fair

July: Dusk Dances (7 days) including open-air films, "Walk a Mile in her Shoes" walkathon and concert put on by the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, “The Space Between” Clay and Paper theatre production (2 weekends)

August: “Dufferin Groove” shinny hockey players annual music jam, “The Space Between” Clay and Paper theatre production (4 days)

September: Morris Dancer's Ale and dance, Havelock Street Fair, Midwife Picnic, Cob Wall Celebration (big), “Pugaluk” parade (pug dogs)

October: Slow Food and Farmers’ market second annual “Tasting Fair” Native Child and Family Pow Wow, Night of Dread Parade

From the Park Newsletter:

FARMERS’ MARKET TASTING FAIR Back in the second year of our market, in the fall, we celebrated the market with a “tasting fair.” Various Toronto chefs cooked some delicious small item with each farmer’s produce. The fair was very popular but also quite a bit of work, so we didn’t repeat it the following year. Now that the market is soon beginning its fourth year, it’s time to celebrate again. On Sunday October 2, from 1 to 4 p.m., we’ll have the second-ever tasting fair, $2 per item (each one tastier than the next). The only difference this time is that the food will be prepared by various renowned good cooks from this neighbourhood and from the farms – some chefs and some ordinary folks with an uncommonly deft touch with food. The tasting fair will be outside along the side of the rink house (inside if it rains).

PARK SAFETY/COURTS

- supervising the park, tracking bad behaviour

- following up park user complaints and concerns

- liaison with St.Mary’s School and Kent Senior School staff and students

- daily contact with basketball players, checking with them for trouble before it starts, peacemaking in summer, working with police if necessary

- counselling and troubleshooting in winter with rink youth, liaison with Dufferin Mall Youth services for counselling

- supervising court-ordered community hours permits (37)

- supervising park youth doing hours for trouble they’ve made

From the Park Newsletter:

LOST SOULSEvery few years the park seems to get one or two new lost souls. Being strangers at the beginning, they often worry people. Sometimes the police are called for strange behaviour, but the police can’t usually do much about it, other than taking the person out for an hour or a day. The park staff are equipped to follow up over the long term, however, and so are some park friends. If a park stranger frightens or concerns you with strange behaviour, try to find a park staff person. They’ll find out more about the person, and see if there are ways to fix any problems the person may be causing. If you have a cell phone, you can also call the rink house – 416 392-0913. Dufferin Grove Park is solid enough that it can carry a few lost souls at a time, with some good effort.

From the Park Newsletter:

HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS IN THE PLAYGROUND

A friend of the playground sent in a question: what can be done about high school students in the playground at lunchtime? (Associated problems: bad language, fights, marijuana, sex, just too many big bodies on the play structures, etc.)

The fact is, there is a by-law: playgrounds are reserved for children 12 and under and their caregivers.

Every year in spring we ask the principal at St.Mary's Catholic High School to make an announcement reminding the students of this (they can go anywhere else in this beautiful 14-acre park). One of the St.Mary's teachers told us that the playground rule has been announced at the school this year too.

Now for the follow-up. Please pass it on to other parents – the playground is off limits for high school students on their lunch hour. If any students still come to the playground, caregivers can ask them kindly to leave (remember, some of the younger teenagers haven't figured out yet that they're not little any more – it's a shock).

If the students don't leave, or they're rude, the phone number to call (if you have a cell phone) is 416 393-5528, press "0" and explain the problem. Or pick up your child and drop in at the school office (across from the north end of the park). The school has been very good about sending a teacher out immediately to follow up, whenever anyone asks for assistance. The park’s staffing budget is very limited at this time of year but a staff person will come in at 11.30 weekdays (the high school lunch time) while school is in session, and do chores near the playground (and reinforce the rules).

HELPING TO UPDATE THE PARK WEB SITE:

- Learning first HTML then wiki

- Updating the Rinks, Sports and Neighbourhood sections of the website

AboutUs-Photos:staffMeeting2005.jpg | staff meeting 2006


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Content last modified on May 22, 2009, at 02:12 PM EST