Exciting Changes on the Horizon for 59th Street Playground

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Florence Ferguson, board president of Friends of the Beach 59th Street Playground Association, is not one to wait for the doors of opportunity to open. She is an assertive and vivacious woman who knocks and bangs on all doors if necessary, to get what her community needs.

What Ferguson and her fellow board members comprising of Arverne and Edgemere residents, Belinda Edwards, vice president; Trishia Bermudez, treasurer; Deborah Short, secretary and Leonard Yarde, sergeant-at-arms, is nothing short of amazing. The Association was founded in 2015. Within one year, Ferguson and her coterie got support from the NYC Parks Department, City Councilman Donovan Richards’ (D-Arverne) office and the 100th Precinct, where they host their meetings. They partnered with the Precinct’s Neighborhood Community Officers program and in tandem with the NYC Parks Department, the evolution of the playground began.

“The partnership, with all of these people advocating for the same goal, was a beautiful thing. The Precinct started locking the playground and addressing the lighting issues at night because during this time, there were a lot of disturbances and worrisome activity,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson and her board secured $1M in funding to revamp the Playground, with the support of the City Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Arverne), who according to Ferguson, has been supportive and instrumental in getting them the funds needed to revamp the 59th Street Playground.

“Thanks again to the Parks Dept., for recognizing our efforts and what we are trying to do with the playground. They invited us to apply for this pilot program, Community Visioning Cohort. So we applied and we were one of only five parks and playgrounds selected across the five boroughs, to participate. We are representing the borough of Queens, as they picked only one from each borough,” Ferguson said

Over the last year, the Association successfully hosted three “It’s My Park Day” events. The events are done in partnership with the Parks Dept., where they focus on recruiting volunteers to come into the playground, and help with cleaning, giving the benches a fresh new coat of paint and plant flowers. “It’s all about giving our park and playground some love,” Ferguson said.

Another section of “It’s My Park Day” is a program they started for the children called “Teachable Moments,” a fun and educational session for the children that is conducted by board member, Debra Short. The last one they did was about the Native Americans, who called Rockaway home before Europeans settled.

In addition, the Association got the Parks Dept. to come with their Play Mobile recreational vans, where they did arts and crafts with the children. They also hosted a “Summer Fun, Fit and Fabulous” event. According to Ferguson, “This was a big day. We had a DJ, and zumba instructor, Lisa G, who  led a massive group of people from the YMCA to the playground to have fun doing zumba,” Ferguson said.

The Association also hosted a movie night on the beach during the summer, and a Fall Festival last October, where they involved the community in planting flower bulbs for the spring/summer 2017 seasons. However for 2017, Ferguson and her team are gearing up for even more in their community.

At their last meeting at the 100th Precinct on Thursday, February 23, they laid out their plans, with the support of local elected officials such as Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway) and her husband, Frank Amato, who were in attendance.

“For 2017, we have en exciting plate of activities and events planned,” Ferguson said. “This year we are expanding. We are going to do another “It’s my Park Day,” on April 22. We are also planning to have yoga, martial arts, and more zumba fitness events. We want all our events to be accessible for everyone. Why can’t we envision the playground as a place where seniors could also come and enjoy it?

“Our funding goal is $2M so that we can get the park renovated. We need to get closer to meeting our funding goal requirement because we can’t get the playground’s re-design and construction started until we become fully-funded.

“In terms of the renovation, we want to change the equipment on the playground. For example, the slides are outdated. Because there is no shade from the sun, they are hot to the touch. So when the children play on them, you actually see them taking buckets of water, to pour down the slides and cool them off. We want the playground to be modern and handicap accessible. On the Beach 59th Street side of the park, you can easily enter because there aren’t any steps, but on the Beach 60th Street side, there is no accessibility.

Ferguson, or Lady Flo, as she is affectionately called, moved to Rockaway in 1995. “I moved to Rockaway because I am a beach fanatic. When I settled here, the houses across the street from me did not exist. However, I grasped the opportunity to purchase a home here because I knew that a renaissance was coming,” Ferguson said.

“Then one day, I was walking down the block, looking at this dilapidated and forlorn playground. I am looking at the kids, I am hearing the neighbors complaining. So one day, my like-minded neighbors and I all got together, walked up to Councilman Richards’ office and said, “Hey, we have a problem! We have elements that we don’t like, that are disrupting the peace of the neighborhood and disrupting their new neighbors.

“We said that this is not Rockaway as usual. Rockaway is changing. It is time that we address the problems of the neighborhood. What was in the past does not always have to be that way. All it takes is a few interested people to make it happen,” Ferguson said.

For further info. about Friends of the 59th Street Playground Association’s upcoming events, visit their Facebook Page.

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