It’s National Volunteer Week and at WSPC, we have dozens of incredible volunteers that help keep Washington Square Park clean, safe and beautiful. Pat DeMarco is a school teacher, a long-time friend of the Park and volunteer tour guide and greeter. A resident of the Village since 1974, she shared her memories of the park and her reasons for volunteering.
What is your first memory of Washington Square Park?
I grew up in Brooklyn so my best friend and I would come to the Village when we were 14 and 15 years old. So, the very first impression from someone coming from Brooklyn into Manhattan was the unusual amount of people and also how unique people looked – it was the hippy era.
I think it was the delight of seeing so many different kinds of people united in one place and even at that age, it gave me the impression that something was happening here and this was a real meeting place for people — which it still is.
How long have you lived in The Village?
I’ve been in The Village since 1974. Ironically whenever I had to look for an apartment I always ended up in the Village. The Village is my home and in many ways, I still feel like I am new here – there is always something fresh and new to see and discover.
And how have you seen the park change over time?
I think the big thing that concerned me was when the park was unsafe. Because this is a beautiful park, and people want to be safe in the park. That has changed. Another change has been more of an appreciation of the monuments and the trees and plants of the park. People work very hard to keep it beautiful and I love that.
Why did you decide to volunteer?
A good friend of mine saw something about a new program for volunteers so she immediately texted me to say it would be perfect for me. So I looked into it and it was an easy application to fill out, there was an interview, and I went to the first class.
They gave us a lot of information and there was a lot of learning facts, but it was fun. I liked that it was made clear that you bring yourself into this program – it wasn’t scripted. I knew that I could design my own conversation with people on the tours so that was appealing to me.
What have you found out about the people who take the tours?
Everyone has a story. So sometimes you would walk through the park and something I said would start a memory for them. Sometimes it would be a personal story about the park — their first kiss under the arch maybe — so it would be this great mutual sharing of information.
What is your favorite thing about volunteering?
I think it’s a great way to see exactly who passes through the park, you have people from all different countries, different parts of the city – there is always a reason why people come to Washington Square Park. This little park offers so much to so many people and people go to have a good time.
How do you interact with people as a volunteer?
We have our signs, our welcome cart and so there is a lot of talking to people, giving them information about that park and neighborhood. It’s fun because the volunteers are not shy about talking to people – it is like a barker at a sideshow, we want people to go on a tour. It is free entertainment all the time.
What story do you enjoy telling the most?
I love talking about then and now, what was there before – the Native American use of the land, the Dutch coming, Little Africa, the Minetta Stream, the Potter’s Field. When you think about this particular plot of land so much happened here, so many different people crossed through that land, so many stories revolve around the park.
Did you learn something new about the park during your training?
I found all the classes to be intriguing there was always something that I took away that I found fascinating.
What would you tell someone else who was considering volunteering?
I would probably say “Do you like to be outdoors meeting people and talking to people about events that happened in the past and how they connect with what is going on now?” This is a way of giving back – the park gave to me, so why not give back to the park.