Protecting Safe Spaces - Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

By Janine Doyle posted 07-12-2019 16:38


Photo credit: Tim Ervin

Engaging Communities Through Education and Recreation

Summer is in full swing, and there is no better time to visit the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens as their signature lotuses and water lilies are in magnificent bloom.

One of the gardens' supporting partners is PLA member Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (FoKAG). Founded in 2001 by a small but mighty team of 10 volunteers, FoKAG has now grown to utilize more than 900 volunteers and bolster its impact on the park as well as the surrounding community through stewardship, engagement and educational programs.

One of the ways FoKAG engages those who live near the park is through their NatureFest Camp, which invites children in the community to enjoy recreational and educational activities over Spring Break.

NatureFest was developed when another nonprofit in the area indicated that the neighborhood children could benefit from programming to keep them engaged and safe outside of the school day. In an effort to marry the assets of both the park and the community to build the most impact for all, NatureFest was born.

"It is incredibly powerful to have children in the community come out and interact with the park," shared Tina O'Connell, Executive Director for FoKAG. She explained that the volunteer camp counselors are trained in trauma-based practices for working with the campers as many of the neighborhoods around the park are stressed communities.

Throughout the week, campers are encouraged to get out and explore the gardens, dipping nets into the ponds to explore the plant and animal life, using binoculars to spot different bird species and becoming acquainted with the park's abundance of diverse habitats. FoKAG has also partnered with other local organizations, such as the Washington Area Bike Association, to bring campers new recreational experiences they might not have otherwise had access to, like biking on a park trail.

In addition to NatureFest Camps, FoKAG offers self-guided, STEM-based lesson plans to help elementary-aged children explore the park. Community teachers, camp leaders, homeschoolers and parents are encouraged to take advantage of these resources to supplement the experience of visiting these beautiful gardens.

Joint Planning = Shared Success

In working with the National Park Services, Tina and her team have found the greatest success in close collaboration. "Everything we do is jointly planned and implemented," said Tina. "When we're all at the table and celebrating our successes together, it helps strengthen our partnership."

This strong collaboration allows FoKAG to partner on a number of special events and celebrations throughout the year that not only engage surrounding communities but also bring visitors from far and wide to the park. Kenilworth's annual events include Summer & Fall Concerts, the Lotus & Lily Festival and a photography contest, each one celebrating the beauty and majesty of their garden oases.