By Elizabeth McGuire
We’ve all heard this before: one person can make a difference. But really, how?
One person can make a difference because one voice can amplify others. One person can inspire dozens. One effort can snowball into action and eventually lead to change. This is how our community improves.
So goes the philosophy of Sally Baulch, who has dedicated many years and countless hours to supporting Austin’s green spaces.
Baulch is a longtime resident of South Austin and has been instrumental in generating support for parks in her neighborhood and surrounding zip codes. In 2012 she adopted her neighborhood park, Joslin School Park, and since then has helped the park earn money for a new playground, walking path and exercise equipment, along with improved tennis courts, lighting and wildlife habitats. She has worked with neighborhood groups, the parks department and the city council to bring attention and equity to her area.
“If you don’t advocate for funding, your community is not getting what’s already collected,” Baulch said. “If you want services, you need to advocate for them. If you start showing care and attention to something, you will meet other people who share these commitments. And if enough people say something, it will trickle up. Your voice matters. The only way for it to not matter is to not say anything.”
Baulch admits the process can be painfully slow and that it can push her out of her comfort zone, but she respects the results.
“I know that once you have an idea, you have to identify the problem, define the solution, find a funding stream, and gather champions. Nothing gets solved quickly. You learn that communication is ongoing. You learn about asking for help and having perseverance even when you get push back. It’s definitely hard, but it works.”
This is the basis for grassroots work, she explains. Making connections and embracing what she calls the “slow build.”
“It’s all about introducing yourself to people and not being scared to ask for something. Our zip code, 78745, has 10,000 more people in it than 78704 and various other surrounding zip codes. So our message is simple: We have more constituents; we have more need. We need more of the pot. Because a lot of it is ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease.’” she said. “Zilker is a huge park and it soaks up a lot of money, but hey, we also exist. We were able to make our case by looking at security stats from the Austin Police Department and then reaching out to district commanders and making connections there.”
Though the work can be challenging, her enthusiasm is unwavering. Equity is at the root of this motivation, and Baulch believes every zip code in Austin deserves healthy parks.
“A park is really the social fabric of a town. Every neighborhood needs a gathering spot, and every neighborhood needs something to make you love living there.”
People + Parks is a series by writer and photographer Elizabeth McGuire and is dedicated to showcasing the people who make our work possible. Check out other stories by choosing the People + Parks category on our blog.