BY BENJAMIN FANG
Alberta Crowley was a star in her community, but now she says the city’s Parks Department is trying to restrict her glowing service.
The 71-year-old Queens Village resident has been volunteering at the Bricktown Community Garden on 106th Avenue and 173rd Street in Jamaica for six years. But she claims park officials have restricted her activity to a space next to the garden, called Tree of Life.
“The area here is unleveled, unsafe,” Crowley said. “They locked me out of the garden.” She said workers from the City Parks Foundation (CPF), a nonprofit that works with the Parks Department, took over about a year ago.
In the past, Crowley worked with disabled children and seniors, helping them grow fig trees, cherry trees, blueberries and grapevines. Now she said she’s not allowed to continue because she’s not certified.
“They said I can’t work here with special needs people,” Crowley said. She pointed out that she was previously given permission as a member of GreenThumb, a city community gardening education program funded by the Parks Department.
The Parks Department responded in an email that Crowley was allowed to temporarily use a portion of the City Park Foundation’s original garden, called the Learning Garden, for her workshops with adults with disabilities.
“In order to accommodate the growing demand for CPF’s educational programs, this section of CPF’s garden has been reintegrated with the rest of their garden,” a Parks Department spokesman said. “Ms. Crowley continues to be welcome to help with these workshops.”
Vanessa Smith, who advocates on Crowley’s behalf, said officials from the Parks Department want to close her off.
“They said she wasn’t allowed to go in there because she’s a volunteer and they are paid,” Smith said. “She’s doing this out of love, so why would you lock her out?”
In addition, Smith said officials from the Parks Department are not providing the support Crowley needs to maintain the smaller area she was relegated to.
“They’re not giving her the funding to upgrade it here,” Smith said. “What I think they’re trying to do is eventually take over the whole area.”
Park officials say they are providing the equipment necessary for improvements. “GreenThumb is currently purchasing lumber and soil to allow raised planting beds to be constructed,” a Parks Department spokesman said. Thirty pieces of lumber currently rest inside the Tree of Life garden.
Despite the dispute over certification and land usage, Crowley said she wants to continue what she’s been doing in the last six years.
“I want access to the area and raised beds for seniors,” she said. She hopes to continue working with people with disabilities and seniors who need wheelchair accessibility into the garden.
Crowley and Parks Department representatives are slated to meet in August, where they will discuss use of the space and possibly building a direct entrance to Tree of Life.
The City Parks Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.