Franklin Park is saying goodbye to one of its most dedicated supporters, Christine Poff, who has helped transform the space over the past decade and a half as executive director of the Franklin Park Coalition.
Poff has accepted a job as the political director for the National Association of Social Workers and is now spending much of her time at the State House campaigning for legislation, something she describes as a drastic but very exciting change.
Her connection to Franklin Park began shortly after she moved to Boston from Brooklyn. “I discovered it pretty quickly after moving here, and we’d just go on the weekends with my kids, and play and walk in the woods,” Poff said.
The coalition, which Poff describes as an advocacy organization, is responsible for a variety of things, ranging from making sure the park is meeting the needs of its users to planning special events for the community.
“We ended up running a lot of programs, but really the group was created and built and sustained by community people fighting to make Franklin Park better, and to make sure it wasn’t dumped on,” she said. “And there’s always an issue to fight for – you know, if there’s a public safety thing, or the city is dumping snow in the park, or park benches need to be replaced or fixed, there’s just always something that needs attention and calls out for advocacy.”
Along with being a watchdog for the park, Poff spent time reviving old programs. One of her proudest revivals is the Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park, a 12-year-long summer concert series that began in 1968. “Everybody over 40 who I have talked to in Dorchester and Roxbury remembered the Elma Lewis Playhouse and wanted it to come back,” Poff said. “And so that was just an obvious first thing that I did pretty early on: Work with the city and others to try to bring the playhouse back.”
She succeeded, and this summer will mark the 14th consecutive year of summer concerts at the park.
Along with the concerts, the park also offers a kite festival in the spring and snow festivals in the winter. “It’s almost like we’re a 1940s fun with no screens, no TV,” said Poff, “but the kind of things people used to do in parks at home before we had all these diversions. And we’re really proud of that. It’s really fun to get people outdoors, and doing things that are not so contemporary, but people love it.”
Poff loves that Franklin Park means something different to everyone. “If you talk to some young Puerto Rican people, for them the park is the Puerto Rican festival. If you talk to the teenage boys who live along Seaver Street and Grove Hall in Dorchester, for them the park is the basketball court. If you talk to dog walkers, it’s this big beautiful woods where they can wind down these paths and get lost.”
Over the years, Poff has stored away a treasure chest of memories. One of her favorites is that of the young boy who, upon arriving at the park, was terrified when a leaf brushed against his face. But after spending some time there, he started running ahead and jumping in piles of leaves with his classmates.
“It was just really special to have an urban second grader who had never really been in the park before, even though he lived a few blocks away, and have him experience the woods and jump in the leaves,” Poff said. “And when it was time to go he wouldn’t get out of the pile of leaves; he was just too happy.”
While she is enjoying this change of pace, Poff calls her departure bittersweet. “I feel really sad, and yet I also feel some relief,” she said. “I really needed a change, I think I was just exhausted from the workload. But at the same time it was so hard to leave, because I loved what I did.
Poff, who has pictures of Franklin Park hanging in her new office, wants to stay involved in the coalition’s events. She is gearing up for the snow festivals this winter, and is ready to break out the 20 sleds in her basement.
Christine Poff will be the guest of honor at a Feb. 10 reception at Hibernian Hall to support Franklin Park youth programming. The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. and will include music, cocktails and hor d’oeuvres. Call 617-442-4141 for more information.