Workshop #1: Working with Civic Officals

November 12, 2003, the GCF of MA had its first Civic Development workshop, “WORKING EFFECTIVELY WITH COMMUNITY OFFICIALS.” The group heard presentations by Roy Blumquist, Chief Horticulturist, Boston, on “Working with Boston Volunteers,” from Erin Chute, Director of Parks and Open Space, Town of Brookline, MA: on “Working with Volunteers in Brookline,” and from Karen O’Connell, Executive Director, Hyde Park Main Streets, “ on “The Main Street Experience with Volunteers.”

Lucia Droby, President of The Community Outreach Group of the Landscape Institute (formerly the Radcliffe Seminars), mentioned ways her organization could help garden clubs develop sound landscape designs.

Two garden club representatives then presented their projects:

Sally Erickson of Seaside Gardeners of Squantum (37 members) discussed

“Organizing the Squantum Causeway Project” and Brenda Lovering of the Chelmsford Garden Club (110 members) talked about “The Chelmsford Daffodil Project.”

Erin Chute’s talk is copied below

Speech: Civic Participation in Local Parks and Open Spaces

Working Effectively with Civic Leaders

November, 2003

Audience: Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts

Town of Brookline Parks and Open Spaces

My Name is Erin Chute. I am the Director of Parks and Open Space in Brookline Massachusetts responsible for all of the Parks, Playgrounds, School Grounds, Town Grounds, Athletic Fields, Street Trees, Cemeteries, Traffic Circles and Islands, Nature Sanctuaries and Small Green Open Spaces. And, I do that with a very capable and conscientious staff. Our mission is to provide a clean, green, safe, accessible network of parks and open spaces that preserves the historic and cultural integrity of the landscape. And, we are trying to do all of this with limited resources. If it’s green, it’s outside, and its public. It’s ours to care for. And, I do mean “ours” collectively.

Community Based Partnerships

When I started with the Town of Brookline 5 years ago I quickly realized that if we were to obtain our goals we would need community based partnerships to help bring talent, resources and commitment to our green spaces. I made it one of my primary goals to increase public-private partnerships in Town and to that end welcomed partnerships with every type of interest group.

As members of garden clubs through the Commonwealth you are a particularly important, talented, and knowledgeable group of individuals that can have a very meaningful impact on our Community Open Spaces and Gardens. We also encourage partnerships between various groups to leverage their respective talents (ie. A Friends Group and the Garden Club. Or, the Greenspace Alliance with a Commercial Donor). And, what we have found is that these partnerships, these spaces, and these people help build a sense of Community. We have also come to realize (and experience) that some partnerships are more lasting, successful and have a greater impact than others.

Civic Pride

What I have been asked to do today is to share some ideas about particular community based volunteer efforts that have been successful and why. Most pointedly how to work effectively with civic leaders.

Working Effectively with Civic Leaders


The most important factor influencing community based volunteer efforts is leadership at the local government level and also within the Garden Club or volunteer organization. Both parties have to be able to build support, leverage resources, manage expectations and implement the program.


What is the vision of the Official or Department that you are interested in working with and how does the vision of your Garden Club coincide with the Department’s vision for parks or green space. Do a little bit of investigatory work before hand to understand the big picture motivators for the agency or official that you are looking to partner with. You need to be able to effectively communicate how the garden clubs project or ideas fits into a common vision.

Schedule and Priorities

The Project has to work with the Department’s goals and fit within their schedule of priorities…or at a minimum not be seen as an impediment to other projects that are already scheduled. The more organized you are as an organization or sub-committee the more interested and responsive the Department will be to your request.

From our perspective Volunteer efforts in parks and open spaces help to educate and encourage members of the public to value and care for our parks and appreciate the greenery around us. We strive to enable the public to help us beautify the Town’s parks and greenery but to also be very clear and set expectations early on in our conversations with volunteer groups.

Communication: Clearly Define, Outline and Present your Project

I can not emphasize enough the importance of effective communication. The approach needs to be the same as that of any other business partnership: Direct, Courteous, Professional, Respectful. If the message from the Club comes off as underestimating the public official or being pushy or inconsiderate of that person’s time…the partnership will not last.

Steps for making your Case

1st Within your Organization

Historic Parks – Plantings based on period of significance – Larz Anderson

School Gardens – Plantings for beautification – Education – Heath/Driscoll

Educational Elements – Part of curriculum, nature walks etc..

Art – Visions of Green

Parkways, Tree Lined Roadways, Traffic Circles/Islands, Greenways – Adopt

Commercial Areas – Community pride

Town Grounds – Highly visible locations–Town Hall–Library
Have a very clear concept for the project.


2nd With Civic Official

Once you have determined your area of interest.

Why Projects may GO WRONG.

Making Connections with the Wrong People – don’t push projects down through the mayor’s office etc… build alliances with people doing the work, setting the budgets and managing the operations. You need buy-in from the people that will continue the relationship.

Lack of Organization – Our staffs are juggling numerous projects, problems, personnel issues and schedules daily. Lack of project organization can quickly lead to a lack of interest on the part of the Civic Official.

One partnership that became difficult pretty quickly occurred following an invigorating site meeting, followed by an enthusiastic contact person (all good so far), and then endless emails and phone calls, ordering 45 bulbs here, 46 bulbs there, 3 dwarf Alberta spruce, some type of variegated leaf ivy, etc…forgetting what the Town said that they would commit to, special orders after everyone else was already working, extra trips and deliveries. We order 7,000-12,000 bulbs each year, thousands of trees and shrubs …placing specialized orders in groupings of 45 is perhaps feasible once, maybe twice, but is not a partnership that is sustainable for us.


Another partnership that had such opportunity, but did not succeed, was an effort in one of our most significant historic parks. The organization worked beautifully with my Town landscape architect and with the greenspace alliance. They adopted one of the shrub beds paid for and installed the historically appropriate plant materials. The Town had problems with the irrigation system (now fixed) and an especially dry summer. The plants failed and ultimately, we replanted ourselves, but felt that we had really failed the group in making the project meaningful. Reality is that mistakes will happen. Projects can fail or have difficulty, but that does not mean that the partnership has to fail.

Community Expectations – Adopt a Space

Maintenance – Longterm maintenance is always a consideration

Why Projects are Successful


Projects that have Big Visual Impact or are symbolic

The larger project – Has a bigger visual impact on the community. Is a real source of pride for the organization. Helps keep volunteers motivated when they can see and hear feedback on the fruit of their labor.

The Annual Project – Bulb Planting. The Brookline Garden Club is working with the Friends of the Brookline Reservoir, the Brookline Community Fund and the Parks Division on a bulb planting project. Originally the Friends group was interested in planting 400 bulbs throughout the 32 acre park. Following a meeting with them, I expressed my concern that the impact of the bulbs would be lost spread throughout the entire site, I also said that given the type of maintenance equipment we use on the property, I was concerned about their longevity, I agreed to match their bulb contribution by purchasing another 400 bulbs. We established one highly visible area to plant all of the bulbs to have a glade of color that would be recognized and appreciated by everyone using and passing the Reservoir.

Maintenance Project – Emerson Garden A group that we work with takes care of the perennial gardens at the entrance to the park. They typically purchase the perennials and manage the gardens. However, we provide loam, mulch and irrigation. We purchase shrubs and trees and maintain all other aspects of the park. The relationship is lasting and has resulted in a very cooperative effective partnership.

Financial Support – Baker School Garden

A local Landscape architect, a commercial donor, the Parks Division and the School PTO worked on and delivered a magnificent garden at the entrance to one of the schools. The garden had a lot of input from various interest groups, has a very special significance for the donor and a maintenance agreement that does not overburden the Parks and Open Space Division.

If you are having difficulty understanding what opportunities might be available in your community, I recommend dropping by the office, or attending an event or meetings organized by the Town. This will give a sense of their culture and approach. And, who the right person might be to talk to.


Movements that are successful in transforming sentiment to action personally, professional or politically, require organizing leadership and volunteer support. Community volunteers from all walks of life are essential for a culture of continuing civic beautification.

No effort is too small. I have seen students doing hands-on gardening at these public green spaces and have observed their enthusiasm and satisfaction while gardening. When kids from child-care centers plant seedlings in the soil, their expressions of interest are a joy to behold. Such small efforts are noteworthy because they underscore the fact that everyone, no matter how young or old, can play a part in taking care of our Parks and green spaces. I have also worked with professional landscape designers that want to spend time volunteering with the local garden club or neighborhood association to plant a more sophisticated community garden in their neighborhood or to help with traffic calming measures.

By creating a sense of ownership and community involvement through the adoption of parks, green spaces (would be green spaces) and nature areas, the community based volunteerism contributes towards developing a more gracious and caring society and helps to foster team spirit and community bonding among the participants as they come together to work towards a common goal.

We need your help at the local level. I applaud your contributions and efforts, and I invite you to continue to play this very significant role.