What makes Westchester County one of the best places in the U.S. to live, work, visit, and have a business? Many would say the county’s Nationally Accredited park system is one of the most significant reasons!
Westchester County boasts more than 18,000 acres of parkland, six nature centers, six golf courses, four pools, four campgrounds, 200+ miles of trails and boulevards, the Westchester County Center, an interpretive farm, a themed amusement park, and myriad other recreational amenities and programs. Friends of Westchester County Parks, celebrating its 35th Anniversary this year, is the only organization dedicated exclusively to supporting the Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation in its mission to protect and promote the entire park system.
“What started in 1978 as a camp scholarship program at Mountain Lakes Camp grew throughout the years to include a broad range of specialized programs and services that help keep our parks clean, green, and growing,” said Joseph A. Stout, Executive Director of Friends of Westchester County Parks. “In 2003, the Friends program was rejuvenated in order to help fill in financial gaps and improve the parks system. Since then, 16 million dollars has been raised for memorials, entertainment activities, educational programs, professional development, and economic research.”
Governed by a dedicated Board of Trustees, The Friends of Westchester County Parks is a non-profit philanthropic organization that secures and administers private funds for Westchester’s parks. Bicycle Sundays, 4th of July Fireworks, Screening Under the Stars, and Bronx River Walking Tours top the list of exceptional activities organized by Friends. Happily, Westchester Magazine’s Burger & Beer Bash is a new, exciting addition to the roster.
“We are so excited to be a part of Westchester Magazine’s 2013 Wine & Food Weekend,” said Stout, “and we think Kensico Dam in Valhalla is the perfect venue for the Burger & Beer Bash on Thursday evening. This event is getting a lot of great buzz. For that reason, it will provide Friends with the opportunity to advocate for the County park system, and, at the same time, to bring celebration to the table. We know that guests will find Friends to be a great place to get involved, culturally and economically, if you love Westchester County.”
There are so many ways to become a Friend, particularly in view of the fact that Westchester sustained considerable damage in Hurricane Sandy with fallen trees, destroyed equipment, and flooding. For 2013, the organization’s first order of business has been to restore the parks. Donations to its Tree Trust program are specifically earmarked for the purchase and maintenance of new trees in all County parks.
“In April, we held our Annual Best Friends Awards Reception, where five individuals and organizations were honored for their contribution to our success and growth,” added Stout. “Friends extended thanks to Herman Geist, Sandy Miller, Michael Romita, Ralph Martinelli, and the Westchester Mountain Bike Association for years of support and dedication to our parks.”
Another way to extend “friendship” to Westchester County Parks is to roll up your sleeves, volunteer, and become park stewards. Well-meaning residents can help with environmental monitoring, ecological restoration, removal of invasive vines and plants, and educating others about the natural environment. The volunteer program is also ideal for students wanting to earn credits for education requirements.
If you’re interested in becoming a friend, visit the website and show your support www.Friendsof WestchesterParks.com.
See you at Burger & Beer Bash 2013!
Joseph A. Stout
Friends of Westchester
It should come as no surprise that community activism is crucial to ending homelessness and hunger in our towns, our cities, and our country. In many cases, homelessness and hunger are symptoms of a larger systemic issue, one that requires an earnest commitment to advocacy and fundraising.
The latest data from the Westchester County Department of Social Services (DSS) shows a 24% increase in homelessness in the County in 2012. The number of people on food stamps since 2009 has jumped 65%. Mind boggling, to say the least.
“This is an economic problem, not a political problem,” commented Jeanne Blum, executive director of the Westchester Coalition for the Hungry and Homeless (WCHH), who recently called for federal funding to be restored to the county to tackle safety net programs like eviction prevention and funding for food pantries. “It’s astonishing to see such drastic increases in hunger and homelessness in such an affluent area as Westchester County, where the rise in unemployment and underemployment among the middle class is a serious issue. Some families are stuck in homes they can no longer afford and are unable to sell. Others have too many assets to qualify for food stamps, eviction assistance, and programs like Medicaid.”
In Westchester, it’s not just homeless shelters that are seeing an increased demand. Food pantries are seeing steady increases of families and individuals who are either hungry or “food insecure.” The pantries are now regularly feeding families from affluent areas like Bedford, Chappaqua, Scarsdale, and Yorktown. “Many families from affluent communities are accessing food pantries in other parts of the county or in the cover of night, to avoid the embarrassment of being seen by their friends and neighbors. We’re here to tell them that it’s OK and help is on the way.”
Help, though, has to come from the private sector. Federal monies that are given to states and counties for safety net services has been slashed. WCHH has seen its funding cut in half this year, forcing the agency to seek other private funding sources to plug a $300,000 hole. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino was able to restore $72,000 in county funding and closely collaborates with WCHH to fund shelters and pantries in Westchester.
“Yes, the rise in the need in our county is really burgeoning,” reiterated Blum, who recently unveiled a new informational campaign to raise awareness of middle class issues. The campaign is also focused on restoring food bank money cut from the federal budget and a fundraising campaign that includes an appeal to the public to donate money via the coalition’s website.
“We’re generating a lot of energy, along with the message that it doesn’t take much to help people in need,” Blum added. “Small acts do make a big difference.”
About WCHH The Westchester Coalition for the Hungry and Homeless is a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization serving as an advocacy and fundraising arm for its more than 150 member shelters and food pantries in Westchester County, New York. Additionally, WCHH provides funding and technical assistance to shelters and pantries throughout the county.
Individuals and families seeking assistance or those wishing to make a tax-free donation, visit the website at www.westchestercoalition.org.
The Westchester Coalition
for the Hungry and Homeless