Cincinnati Parks Foundation

Cincinnati Parks Foundation is the official non-profit partner of Cincinnati Parks. Now in its 26th year, the Cincinnati Parks Foundation is a network of volunteers committed to supporting the Cincinnati Park system — all 130+ parks and greenspaces across the city. This is done through supporting conservation, activation, and advocacy.

But the Cincinnati Parks were not immune to the struggles of 2020: The pandemic forced events to be canceled, buildings to close and volunteering to be reduced. But it’s a new year and a season, and the Cincinnati Parks Foundation is proving itself to be a formidable force, and one of the pandemic’s unsung heroes. Southwest Ohio Parent spoke with Jennifer H. Spieser, executive director of Cincinnati Parks Foundation, about how the organization weathered the storm, what’s next — and why the parks are so important.

Tell us about the Cincinnati Parks Foundation’s history.

The Cincinnati Parks Foundation is a non-profit organization, founded in 1995, with the purpose of raising funds for the support of Cincinnati Parks. Along with raising funds, the Cincinnati Parks Foundation raises awareness and support for Cincinnati Parks by educating the public on the added value greenspace provides to our community and environment. The Cincinnati Parks Foundation’s mission is “to build broad-based private/public partnerships supporting the conservation and enhancement of our City’s parks and greenspaces” – ultimately, to help find partners who understand the value and power of Cincinnati Parks within our city.

What types of projects does Cincinnati Parks Foundation work on?

The Cincinnati Parks Foundation works from a three-year strategic plan. Working with the Cincinnati Park Board in 2018, eight neighborhood parks were selected to concentrate our fundraising efforts within. The parks were geographically diverse, and needed a variety of capital improvements. To date, six of the eight parks have been funded to receive everything from new playgrounds and playscapes to irrigation lines and new trees.

2020 was *a year* for everyone — Cincinnati Parks included. What kinds of initiatives did you bring about as a result of the pandemic?

Food disparity is always a major concern, but certainly became one for our organization, as we worked to provide $20,000 to the Cincinnati Recreation Commission in order to support feeding children attending their before- and after-school programs. [In 2020] we also invested into a program with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital aimed at providing safe and accessible programming in Cincinnati Parks to children suffering with illnesses and early onset disabilities; these programs were provided to hundreds of children last year, and has opened up new opportunities for community partnerships, including Luke 5 Adventures, who provided an accessible hiking chair to children.

Why are the Cincinnati Parks so important, especially now?

Parks are much like public libraries: the last truly democratic spaces of our time; free and accessible for all. When everything shut down during last spring’s stay-at-home orders, we helped bring Cincinnati Parks to people’s homes virtually, because the parks are more important now more than ever, and we recognize that.

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