- Happy 15th Birthday!
Schenley Plaza is my favorite Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy project. It’s so lively and energetic, and it provides an unexpected, peaceful oasis in the middle of the busy Oakland traffic. It serves many purposes to many people: a Wi-Fi spot for students and professionals, a place to enjoy lunchtime music, an outdoor yoga studio, a concert venue. And when it comes to hosting kids’ events, the Plaza is unmatched. That’s why it was the perfect place to host our 15th birthday celebration on July 10.
The party plans were already in the works when I joined the Parks Conservancy staff this spring, so I’d been looking forward to the event and envisioning many smiling faces filling the tent. Although I’ve hosted and attended events at the Plaza before, this was my first as a Parks Conservancy team member, and I was eager to welcome families to my favorite spot.
Of course, waking up to a 90 degree forecast on Sunday was a little intimidating. I went into what I call “event-mode”, which basically means worrying about cake melting and water staying cold, and ultimately going through the checklist a dozen times to make sure we didn’t forget anything. Sun block liberally applied, I headed to the Plaza and joined my coworkers and the entertainers to get ready.
The Citiparks Roving Art Cart kept budding artists busy all afternoon.
One thing I did forget is that kids don’t really mind the 90 degree temperatures like us adults do – in fact, the kids who came to the party seemed hardly phased at all. Promptly at 2 p.m., they headed right for the treat table, arming themselves with oranges, bananas, cookies and water before wandering onto the next activity. A few immediately got in line to get the first balloon animals, some opted to start the party with the face-painter, and others headed directly for the Citiparks Roving Art Cart to challenge the budding artist within. The more patient children sat for the caricature artist, who busily sketched their smiling faces, while others grabbed their favorite color marker and signed our big birthday banner.
With everything successfully underway, I wandered through the Plaza tent to see the results of our hard work and planning. I never tire of seeing a happy child enjoying him or herself on a summer day, but I admittedly was moved by the level of enthusiasm. Our hundreds of guests were fully engaged; beautiful, bright artwork hung from a clothesline by the Roving Art Cart, swinging in the welcome breeze (did I mention it was hot?). A toddler giggled and ran to hug
"Sharkie" offered hugs and high-fives to the kids.
“Sharkie”, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s mascot who graciously greeted guests all afternoon. Kids lined up to take a free ride on the PNC Carousel, and others grabbed a seat for a front row view of the juggler’s lively show, which had everything from a unicycle to a tiny basketball hoop attached to the juggler’s head.
REI's Peter Greninger presented CEO Meg Cheever and Board Chair Jerry Voros with a generous check to support volunteer training.
We did have a little business to conduct at the party; it’s our birthday, after all, so we have many people to thank for helping us achieve so much in 15 years. Director of Education Marijke Hecht took time to honor several of our outstanding volunteers, Maria Kyriacopoulos, Steve Harvan, Russ Braun, Mike Markey, and Fred and Carol McCoullough, who run the gamut from Volunteer Crew Leader to Urban EcoSteward, invasive species warrior to signage gurus. How’s that for dedication?
We also thanked Direct Energy, who generously sponsored the 15th Birthday Celebration, and many of our city and non-profit partners. And the fun part: REI presented a check to Parks Conservancy President and CEO Meg Cheever and Board Chair Jerry Voros. The check is REI’s support of our Volunteer Crew Leader training programs, appropriate as we honored volunteers. Thanks, REI. Love those big novelty checks!
At that point we sang a hardy verse of “Happy Birthday”, and cut into a big birthday cake. It was my favorite part of the day, as I got a chance to say hello and thank our guests while serving them. (Nothing brings people together like an icing-covered piece of cake.) I was filled with pride as guests thanked us for the hard work we do in their parks, and wished us a happy birthday. And then it was back to the Art Cart, Sharkie, and the entertainers.
What could be better than seeing such happy faces enjoying our parks?
So my love for Schenley Plaza continues and is even strengthened after the 15th Birthday Celebration. As we started to clean up and guests started to head out, I heard a loud cheer come from the PNC Carousel. “Sharkie” was on his way back to the Zoo, and the kids were eagerly waving goodbye and thanking him from coming to see them. How cute is that?
Jessica Romano is proud to be Marketing & Communications Manager for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Check out more photos from the 15th Birthday Celebration on our Flickr site.