After graduating from the city’s Local Government Academy, or LGA, in 2010, Pat Crowley knew she wanted to give back to the community she’d called home since the 1970’s but didn’t know how. As the president of her condo’s HOA board and still working full time as a payroll specialist for the Ed More Automotive Group, she knew she didn’t have the time to dedicate to running for public office as some of her classmates did.
Past graduates of the LGA include all give current city commissioners as well as several past mayors. The LGA provides residents an opportunity to learn how each department and the city commission work together to help make Oakland Park a better place to live, work and play.
When Pat heard about the city’s Volunteer Corps, which brings together residents and business owners to participate in civic organization networking and outreach events for the betterment of Oakland Park and its community members, she decided to join in! “I thought I would take my time and give it back to the community,” she explained.
Like Pat Crowley there are many other selfless Oakland Parkers that team up with the City’s Volunteer Corps to make a difference.
The Volunteer Corps, with the help of the Home Depot, teamed up with another city organization, Operation our Neighbor, to expand its reach to residents in the city.
Operation Our Neighbor is a community improvement project designed to assist residents to effectively upgrade their properties to comply with community standards or codes. The program aims to unite local stakeholders for the betterment of the city’s neighborhoods while reaching out to neighbors in an immediate or critical need of assistance.
Bruce Garrison, the volunteer project manager, oversees both groups and often sends out emails to volunteers when their help is needed for various projects. That includes the annual clean-up at the Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve, held in January.
The nature preserve, located at 2820 NW 27 Ave, consists of over five acres of native sand pine scrub and plants, a walkway and an elevated decking and educational shelter. Additionally, the land preserve is home to many species native to Florida, including the gopher tortoise.
“Lakeside is a cool park. Not a lot of people know it’s there,” Crowley said. “It’s a really neat park. There are different stations throughout the park that talk about the different plantings.”
Volunteers worked at the preserve Jan. 25 to remove invasive plant species, clear and define trails and maintain walkways. According to Garrison, the volunteers time is all donated and he does his best to keep all project costs to a bare minimum.
“The volunteer corps has a budget, but for these events it is spent on durable items that are reused over the course of a variety of volunteer projects,” he said. Those pieces include rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, clippers, chainsaws and gloves.
At 76 years old, Crowley retired in 2014, but never once thought about giving up her volunteer duties. Actually, she’s picked up even more duties, including volunteering twice a week at city hall, working as a server at the annual culinary showcase, the holiday village and the tree giveaway program.
“To be really honest with you, it’s always work but we have fun,” she said. “Usually, when Bruce sends out an email saying he has a project coming up and he needs volunteers, I’ll respond saying I can do it and he tells me he already has me on the list.” Pat explained helping people is something she’s always felt called to do. “I’m 76 but I don’t feel it. I enjoy being out with people.”
While much of the work involved in clearing properties is labor intensive, she said it serves a purpose.
“A lot of the projects we do are work intensive, but the volunteer corps has fun doing it. I really feel that all the projects I volunteer are worthwhile,” she said. “I don’t want to say any one thing is better than another. Even when I’m volunteering at city hall those two mornings, I don’t feel like I’m working.”
To learn more about the volunteer programs in the city, visit the city of Oakland Park’s website at www.oaklandparkfl.gov.
PHONE BUDDIES URGENTLY NEEDED TO SUPPORT OUR COMMUNITY DURING THE CORONAVIRUS QUARANTINE:
Katina Caraganis is a Massachusetts native and has called South Florida home since 2015. She graduated college with a degree in communication studies and has received numerous writing awards during her tenure in journalism. When she’s not working for an online pet supply retailer, she spends her time training for a half-marathon in March and studying to become a certified nutrition coach.