Just spend any afternoon driving around our city and you cannot help but notice construction of all kinds, commercial and residential, in a city with more concrete than greenspace. The Gulfton area is no different.
But among the people hoping to change the balance is a group of dedicated Gulfton moms known as Madres del Parque (Mothers of the Park).
It was former City Council Member Mike Laster who gave the group its name.
“He was on a visit to (Burnett-Bayland Park) and noticed a little boy wandering around and then a mom came to the boy and began looking for his parents,” Madres del Parque co-founder Maria Hernandez said. “It was at that moment that the council member saw moms in action, and recognized that mothers are very powerful in the community, and began calling us Madres del Parque. And it just stayed with us.”
“I can remember when a little girl was almost kidnapped from our local park and thinking to myself, this is supposed to be a safe place for our families to gather. Talking to other mothers and we started working on taking back our park,” Hernandez said.
The group began in 2016 with 10 moms who, on their daily outings to the neighborhood park, noticed trash and an overall lack of visual appeal. What started as simply picking up trash has grown into a movement dedicated to reclaiming the only park in the area and developing community-based projects there.
“We worked at getting recycling bins put in at the park,” according to Hernandez.
It was not as easy as you may think.
In Hernandez’s telling, the group persuaded city parks representatives to install recycling bins. The members would work to ensure the bins were properly filled with recyclable material, but the bins were removed by the city because people regularly used them as receptacles for trash.
The group is working with the city to have the bins returned, while Hernandez carries the collected recyclables to her home for proper disposal or to a city drop-off location.
In the meantime, the group is also working with Air Alliance Houston, a non-profit organization working to reduce the public health effects of air pollution and uphold environmental justice.
Organizers recall a group of youth volunteers from Oregon who came to the park one summer and built a butterfly garden, which became a visitors’ favorite. The 2021 “Big Freeze” damaged the garden; now the moms are in the process of rebuilding it.
Monthly park cleanup events continue with support from organizations like Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Nature Conservatory. The events are family affairs with all ages welcomed. Each monthly cleanup is followed with family friendly activities.
The latest addition to the park is a community garden thanks to support from Good Reason Houston.
Hernandez has taken a course in community engineering from BakerRipley and serves as a member of the steering committee for the Greener Gulfton master plan. It’s focused on bringing more nature and green spaces, with more parks and trees, to the area.
Also, Madres will use a recent $5,000 grant from Comcast to expand community outreach to include community schools and apartment complexes in these activities.
“Our area is comprised of people from different backgrounds, cultures and even countries. We encourage the community to take ownership of the green space no matter what country you come from. Once you plant your roots, that is your home,” Hernandez said. The community shares stories of their childhood in their home country and how they want to give their children a place to enjoy gthe outdoors. This can mean riding a bike, taking a walk, playing soccer, helping with the garden or just having an outdoor picnic. Connecting with nature and being outdoors is something that all children can benefit from, and we want to offer a space for our community to safely enjoy nature and share our heritage.”
The park has also served as a COVID testing site and has hosted dental screenings for residents.
Further improvements to the park are coming, thanks to support — financial and otherwise — from the Gulfton Area Management District, the Gulfton Super Neighborhood Council, BakerRipley, Connect Community, Council Member Edward Pollard and County Commissioner Lesley Briones.
For information about Community Days, cleanup dates and other events, follow the organization on Facebook (Madres del Parque) and Instagram (@madresdelparque).
— By Jessika Leal