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After Threat, Funding for Carroll Park Employee Restored

Kathleen Henderson's job has been restored - for now.

When there's enough passion involved, things can happen very quickly.

Just over a day ago, word spread on message boards and blogs that beloved playground associate Kathleen Henderson's job would no longer be funded by the Parks Department.

Parents and locals rallied together and, frantically, sent emails and made distressed phone calls.

"A park attendant is needed not only to ensure order and safety, and alert police or other officials to any potential problems or concerns, but also to foster a sense of community through kid-friendly programs and events," said local parent Lynn Melnick.

And just as quickly as parents rallied, so did Councilmember Brad Lander, whose office was contacted by concerned residents.

Lander wrote in a message to the Bococa Parents listserv that he spoke with the Parks Department Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Kevin Jeffries and Chief of Staff Marty Maher and that funding was found to restore Henderson's position this season.

"I'm very pleased to let you know about the restoration of the Carroll Park playground associate position of Kathleen Henderson, better known to many of you as the "den mother of Carroll Park," wrote Lander in the message.

But Lander warned that budget cuts still remain a real threat for the Parks Department.

"We are not out of the water here," he wrote. "Mayor Bloomberg is proposing substantial additional cuts for the budget year that starts July 1st, including cuts of more than $10 million for seasonal workers like Kathleen. If those cuts go through, we may shortly find ourself right back in this position."

A Parks Department spokesperson said help from the City Council is what will keep Parks staff on the job.

“Playground Associates are very valuable as they assist with both the programming and maintenance of the park. Last year, because of the efforts of the City Council, we were able to stave off a lot of the cuts to our staffing. Unfortunately, without a similar restoration this year we would be looking at a further reduced staff.”

A playground associate is a seasonal Parks Department employee who attends to the park house and generally oversees operations at city parks. An associate monitors children and parks equipment, making sure everything is safe and in operational order. Henderson was especially loved for doing more than was expected of her.

Peter Becker, a local parent, said she was a "presence" in the park, and would often go "beyond the call of duty."

Another local parent, Naidre Miller, said Henderson is instrumental to the park community.

"She is involved in, and cares about, the life of the park and understands how it impacts the daily life of children in this area," she said. "She makes the park a better place and by extension, the neighborhood, a better place for our children and ourselves."

Becker added that Henderson also helps to police the park, and always keeps a watchful eye out for anyone causing trouble and behaving inappropriately.

Miller agrees.

"Because it [the park] is so widely used, it is doubly important for there to be a person that knows what is going on," she said. "There is zero presence by the police, and there are many ways that the  park can be misused."

Henderson will be back on the job on Monday, June 20.

Beth Dunn June 10, 2011 at 11:46 AM
Some of my fondest memories of raising my children in Carroll Gardens involve the fun arts and crafts projects we did with Kathleen Henderson. (Even after all these years, our family still uses most of the items we made!) I'm looking forward to bringing my new granddaughter to Carroll Park to do the same. I hope Kathleen's there forever!
maria pagano June 10, 2011 at 05:10 PM
Thanks to the quick thinking of the community that so understands the important role Kathleen Henderson plays! Kudos to Brad Lander and Marty Maher for working together so successfully to respond to our concerns and securing Kathleen's Park watch for this year. Kathleen wears all the hats reported in the article. The reality is that we all have to assess how we are going to move into the future- when my children were growing up, we had 2 full time "Parkies". Here in 2011, we have morning "sweepers" who clean and leave, moving down the list of parks they tend. We have Kathleen in the Park House, for 35 hours a week from April to Sept. keeping an eye on the younger end of the "mix" of park users. The park is one city block- and Kathleen is the "go to person", regardless of the issue. A park of this size needs more than just 35 hours of staffing each week. We need to sit down together; community, electeds and Parks, to figure out how we're going to keep our park a safe, viable community amenity next year and beyond. Maria Pagano
tim maguire June 12, 2011 at 01:08 PM
Congratulations to the parents of Carroll Gardens on saving your park attendant. Here in Red Hook, we've lost our full time Coffey Park attendant and the effect was immediate. It's still a great park, but it's far dirtier, with trash building up around the fences and broken balloons and sometimes glass on the ground.

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