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Engaging communities + Provoking change

Community conversations on the National Park Service

On Wednesday, September 20, 2017, 60 leaders from Boston’s nonprofit and municipal communities gathered at BSA Space for a participatory workshop co-hosted with the National Park Service in Boston. The workshop aimed to discover intersections between various community and nonprofit groups and ongoing National Park Service efforts and resources, in order to better utilize those efforts and resources to meet community needs. The morning workshop was full of lively conversation, inspiring presentations, and deep dives into topic areas including education, environmental stewardship, storytelling, and design.

The morning opened with remarks from Michael Creasey, Superintendent, National Parks of Boston. Michael discussed the National Park Service’s Urban Agenda, looking at how NPS sites can become more relevant in urban communities. The National Parks of Boston include Boston National Historical Park, Boston African American National Historic Site, and Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park.  All partnership parks, they include sites along the Freedom Trail, the Black Heritage Trail, and 34 islands in Boston Harbor.  A particular focus is on broadening the stories told at and about NPS sites, and how the parks can be places for reflection, shared learning, dialogue, and inspiration. Six brief presentations followed Michael’s remarks, each led by one or more NPS staff members and partners. They discussed current programming at sites, ongoing initiatives, and how they would like to expand their work in the future.

Kelly Sherman, BSA Foundation Trustee, kicked off the charge for the day and introduced the concept of design thinking. Participants were encouraged to spend the morning brainstorming, questioning their assumptions, and working to synthesize and link the ideas they generated. With that charge, participants broke up into small group discussions by table group. Each table spent about 90 minutes brainstorming issues, potential solutions, topic intersections, and potential partners for their guiding question. After the small group discussions, groups reported back with one key project that captured the essence of their conversation.

Suggested projects ranged from creating a map of first amendment spaces in the greater Boston area, so people would know where federal lands were for public assembly, to developing physical fitness and mental health programming to enhance the parks as holistic healing spaces. Several ideas bounced around that drew on Boston’s unique history, including storytelling projects about resilience when under siege—either literal or metaphorical—and citywide multimedia projects on individual meanings of freedom. At the end of the morning, participants left energized and excited for future overlaps between their organizations and the National Park Service. This participatory workshop was the first in a series of community conversations that will be taking place throughout fall 2017 and winter 2018, aimed at identifying areas where the National Parks of Boston can provide resources and programming that will directly address local community needs.

Images: National Parks Service Workshop. Photo credit: Elliya Cutler.


To learn more about how the BSA Foundation is making an impact in communities, please come to BSA Space for a one hour “tour” of BSA Foundation programs. On the tour, board members and volunteers will tell stories about how Foundation programs, and the power of design, are positively changing the lives of real people. Meet the BSA Foundation meetings are held monthly. Events are free, but seats are limited. Check for upcoming dates and to reserve your seat.