A Fresh Look at Our 2020 Commitments to Inclusion in Our Programs

Grant Ausbury APF News, Blog Page, Groundbreakers, Parks Equity

In 2020 we made a commitment to move deeper into justice, equity and inclusion through our programming. Now, with 2020 behind us, we wanted to give you an update on the ways we have succeeded - and failed - to follow through on those commitments.

Below are some of the ways we have tried to infuse our value of inclusivity into our daily work. Some are large and some are small, and we know there is still more to do. We again invite you - our community - to continue holding us accountable for the ways we can be better and ensure that Austin’s parks, trails and green spaces are inclusive and welcoming to all.

Building Relationships

Community Outreach and Engagement

Despite the obstacles to in-person community engagement during COVID-19, we remained committed to reaching as many community members near our signature park projects as possible. Our work included door-to-door blockwalking, emailing neighborhood listservs, calling and meeting with neighborhood leaders, holding virtual community meetings with translation services, and providing survey and presentation materials in English and Spanish.

We believe this work is critical to increasing equity because the voices of those most impacted by new amenities and new parks should have a say in the work we are doing. To learn more about our community engagement approach, read here.

Partnerships

For nearly 30 years we have worked to cultivate a broad network of volunteers and park lovers, and we want to use this influence more effectively to amplify the voices of Austin’s BIPOC communities.

We partnered with Texas Appleseed, a non-profit that promotes social and economic justice for all Texans, and the League of Women Voters, which empowers voters to defend democracy, to participate in panel discussions for our Parks Summit, as well as host Instagram takeovers to educate our constituents about their work. This year we hope to open these opportunities up to even more BIPOC-led organizations as we use our platforms to amplify their voices.

In 2021, we are also working with Public City to continue our placemaking work along the Eastlink trail, building on our relationships with the neighbors, leaders and organizations that are deeply tied to the history and culture of East Austin. We want this to be a trail experience that reflects this vibrant community in every way. Learn more about our past work here, and be sure to sign up for updates on our future work along this critical urban trail.

Volunteerism

Virtual Opportunities

Though in-person volunteering was largely unavailable throughout 2020 and early 2021, APF developed a virtual volunteering program and created an inclusive avenue for volunteering, though additional targeted outreach is necessary to ensure people are aware of this new program. Our hope is that these virtual opportunities will continue to be a staple for those who are unable or uninterested in attending our traditional work days, providing more access to parks stewardship.

COVID-Safety Measures

Now that in-person volunteerism is back, we are targeting safe, open work days to take place at parks that have the greatest need. Stay tuned to our volunteer page for ways you can give back!

During stages 4 and 5, only paid staff were allowed to lead projects on parkland, so we hired several crew members and leaders in order to assist neighborhood groups with critical park project needs. Many were community stewards, or American Youthworks’ Texas Conservation Corps crew members, who were able to supplement their income through this work.

We are also leading any neighborhood groups who request a project, providing materials and resources like mulch and seeds, and assisting with onsite support and technical assistance for their volunteer improvement projects.

Bridging the Digital Divide

We are also excited to announce that GivePulse, our volunteer registration platform, is currently working on enabling volunteers to sign up for projects using only a phone number instead of email, which will remove a significant barrier for participation.

Park Education

Virtual Parks Summit

Our switch to a virtual Parks Summit Series yielded rich results in 2020, enabling us to focus on equity, youth leadership, and the relationship of BIPOC communities to the outdoors. We reached thousands of viewers, far beyond our previous Summit impacts, allowing our audience to watch and learn on their own time. Highlights include:

  • Parks for All: Promoting Equity in Austin’s Parks (with guests from our Equity office, PARD’s Equity task force, and local experts on the relationship of race with the outdoors)
  • Youth in the Lead: Racial Equity (featuring local youth leaders who participate in the Youth Leadership Working Group)
  • Inclusive Play: Playgrounds for Invisible Disabilities (featuring a national expert on inclusive playground design created for all children).
  • And most recently, in our first session of 2021, we focused on how the Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) program in Austin closes nature gaps and makes nature accessible to the children who need it most.

In addition to offering these sessions virtually, we have also enabled captioning on all of our parks summit videos in order to make them more accessible moving forward. We were not able to offer translations for these sessions, but hope to add this in the future.

Introducing the Austin ParksCast

Because we heard from many park lovers that a more portable version of the Summit series was needed, we created the Austin ParksCast. Season 1 of this new podcast is out now, and features some of the most popular sessions from the 2020 Parks Summit series. Season 2 will launch alongside this year’s new Parks Summit, and will feature bonus content not available anywhere else. We even got to partner with Austin’s own Honey Son to write and record our ParksCast theme song! You can check it out wherever you get your podcasts.

Investments

Outdoor Equity for Austin’s Students

COVID-19 posed significant challenges to our normal funding opportunities, but in late 2020 APF awarded 6 ACL Neighborhood Grants to create outdoor classrooms at joint-use sites overseen by PARD and AISD. These grants helped address the challenges of COVID-19 by supporting school parks that have little to no outdoor learning space. Using an equity lens and a data-driven approach through our partnership with CCCN, we identified sites and mobilized projects to meet the need as quickly as possible. These sites also serve as safe, accessible spaces for outdoor community meetings and gatherings.

Removing Barriers to Funding

One of the areas we have seen the most immediate success in advancing equity is our grants program. We offer one-on-one assistance with grant applications in both English and Spanish. This provides guidance on the intricacies of project development and funding requests to make it as easy as possible for neighborhoods to seek out funding for projects that are meaningful to them and their communities. We also work each month to identify groups that might need assistance, and directly reach out to them.

Park Design Services

In 2020, we awarded TA Brown School Park our annual park design service. TA Brown is located in District 4, which is one of the most park and green space deficient areas of Austin. These services enable the neighborhood to create a more welcoming space that is walkable from their homes, and overcome the obstacle of hiring a professional landscape architect to create the designs required to execute park improvement projects.

The Park Design Services award is specifically chosen to fill gaps in low-income and park-deficient areas.

Sponsored Fund Account Program

We offer one-on-one assistance with setting up sponsored fund accounts, which provide neighborhood groups the opportunity to raise funds using our 501c3 umbrella. From our most recent review, we have identified minimum balances as a barrier for some park adopters and community gardens. We are currently working through ideas including waiving first year fees, or offering mini-grants to start accounts in order to remove this hurdle.

Additionally, we provide one-on-one training and assistance so that current SFA holders may participate in Amplify Austin, a once-a-year opportunity to raise funds and receive amazing matching fund opportunities from APF and our sponsors. This one day represents a chance to reach fundraising goals that might otherwise be a challenge.

Signature Projects

In 2020 and beyond, we remain committed to meeting the greatest needs in parks that have experienced historic underinvestment. Project highlights include:

  • Govalle Park - Govalle Neighborhood Park is located in a historic, predominantly BIPOC neighborhood on the east side of Austin. Long-time residents have loved and used this space as a hub for family and community gatherings, as well as recreational sports. Our goal has been to preserve the history and culture of the park, while making improvements that make the park safer, more accessible, and reflect the community’s desires.
  • Springdale Playground Project - Not far north of Govalle, Springdale Neighborhood Park needed a safe, shade-giving place for children to play. This beautiful park also lacked connectivity for neighbors to navigate the trails, and APF was able to team up with the city to provide the neighborhood with a walkable gathering place that maintains the natural beauty of the area.
  • Little Walnut Creek Greenbelt - This park was acquired just a few years ago by PARD to address the park deficiency in the area, and a Vision Plan was created shortly thereafter. Also located in an east side neighborhood that lacked historic investment, this greenbelt was unfortunately a long-time illegal dumping ground and an unsafe place for the community to use. Working with this active community, who has been cleaning and stewarding this undeveloped land for years, APF was able to help make progress toward the community goals of accessibility and nature trail development, as well as realizing the community’s desires to install a playspace.

We also supported park adopter groups who needed help getting the word out to their neighbors by developing and translating surveys, connecting groups with our ambassadors to assist with social media and organizing, and holding quarterly meetings for volunteers and park stewards, with translation services, to connect the community with resources and support.

Areas of Improvement

While we are proud of the progress we have made, we are well aware that there is more we could be doing to support Black, Indigenous, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latinx, Disability and LBGTQIA+ communities. Below are a few focus areas, and other ways we will be supporting our inclusivity goals in 2021.

As a proud partner of PARD, we also want to acknowledge the incredible work being done by the city to address racial inequity and celebrate our BIPOC communities. In light of the most recent threats to AAPI communities, we want to acknowledge the programming already being done to provide important community support and put a spotlight on the contributions of these communities. We also want to highlight the history and impacts of these communities - check out some the resources below to learn more!

In addition to continuing to support PARD in their programming initiatives, we also want to use our platform to center important conversations and turn the attention of our audience toward the work being led by BIPOC communities. We’ll do that by:

  • Expanding on equity conversations and increasing representation in our Summit series
  • Partnering with BIPOC organizations as opportunities to do in-person events and programming become available
  • Reviewing our virtual community engagement approaches and identifying where we have been successful, and where we can improve participation and representation

We are so grateful for a community willing to do this work alongside us and hold us accountable to continuing the momentum. Together, we can ensure Austin’s parks, trails and green spaces are safe and welcoming for all!