Friends of Mifflin Square create cultural cohesion


One of the benefits of living in a city is being exposed to a variety of different cultures and ethnicities. The South Philadelphia residents near Mifflin Square Park, Sixth and Ritner streets, celebrated the diversity of their neighborhood by hosting an event recognizing those distinctions Saturday.

The newly-formed Friends of Mifflin Square presented Multicultural Day at Murphy Recreation Center, Fourth and Shunk streets. The festivities, which included mini-games; arts and crafts; a large array of ethnic food and drink; and performances 1 to 4 p.m., aimed to bring the community together in celebration of diversity and spread he word out about the new park group.

“Mifflin Square Park is a diverse ethnic park and people tend to be shy of other cultures,” Barbara McCabe, parks coordinator for the City of Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation Department, said. “Multicultural Day helps to show people that the park is for everyone and helps to get people together.”

The afternoon performances included elementary-aged children from The Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, 2416-18 S. Seventh St., who sung a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “We Are the World,” and performed a traditional Cambodian dance.

“The area is very diverse but neighborhoods are still segregated,” Sarun Chan, a member of The Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, who runs Teens Organizing Proactivity, said. “Multicultural Day helps to expose people to different performances and music and get taste tests of different foods. We’re all here as Americans and it helps kids to recognize their heritage.”

Some of the other participating organizations included The Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative, based at the Houston Center, 2029 S. Eighth St., Boat People SOS, 600 Washington Ave., Lower Moyamensing Civic Association, and Whitman Council. The park, which stretches a whole city block from Fifth to Sixth and Wolf to Ritner streets, is situated in Whitman, but is near some LoMo neighbors as well.

“Each of these groups [hosted] a table and supplied a food and/or drink item for attendees,” Brooke Allen, who, along with Matt Migliore founded sustainADELPHIA, a local organization that hosts monthly cleanups at Mifflin Square Park, said. “The tabletops featured literature and/or activities designed to educate the attendees on the mission and involvement of each group in South Philly community programming.”

Cory Miller, the collaborative’s program coordinator, was instrumental in taking the summer cleanups at the park to the next level, according to Allen. Over the spring and summer months, it helped to host healthy barbecue and fitness activities after each cleanup for the community children funded through a Philadelphia Urban Food and Fitness Alliance grant. The barbecue and activities resulted in a large turnout, particularly with the children that use the park.

“Mifflin Square Park has lots of potential but needed a little TLC,” Miller said. “The events we host focus on how to engage the community and get youth to come out. This summer, we’re hosting the uGO 5K challenge. Participants will meet every Saturday and try out different forms of fitness. The community will then compete in a 5K race.”

The City’s Parks and Rec has provided the friends group with cleaning equipment to help spruce up the area and reverse bad habits.

“Matt and Brooke started helping to clean the park three years ago,” McCabe said. “The park had issues with excessive dumping and graffiti. There is a spray fountain in the middle of the park that hadn’t been functioning for years. We got that working and the kids could use it to cool off during the summertime.”

Parks and Rec has been working together with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to help clean up local city parks for the last 15 years. The society along with collaborative and other organizations, helped sustainADELPHIA provide entertaining activities for the children after each cleanup last summer. Some of the activities included mask-making after the Halloween cleanup, having the children make their own hula-hoops, a movie night and a break-dancing demo.

“sustainADELPHIA and the cleanups have helped to encourage healthy use of parks,” Jen Mahar, Philly Green’s program coordinator, said. “The kids won’t litter if they’re cleaning up the litter. And hopefully that lesson will move up the latter to their parents.”

The Friends of Mifflin Square held its first official meeting in August with initial members and those who were already involved in organizing monthly cleanups at the park attending. Members of the friends group include community members as well as people who live outside of the neighborhood but run local nonprofits and organizations that help to support the park.

One of the group’s biggest accomplishments has been continuing the monthly cleanups originally organized by sustainADELPHIA, but making them even better, Allen said. The group has helped the youth — at times more than 40 youngsters — to become excited about participating in the cleanups through the healthy barbecues and activities.

Group members feel that parks help to benefit the city by being a great meeting place for neighbors to get together and a safe venue for children to play. Parks provide something to people of many different backgrounds, ethnicities, races and ages, Allen said.

“For Mifflin Square Park specifically, its size and location allows it to be used by a lot of people at once,” she said. “And the immigrant Southeast Asian community living around the park use it daily for picnics, volleyball, games and just to hang out and socialize like they would in their native countries.”

The Friends of Mifflin Square meet on the first Thursday of every month either in the park if the weather permits or at the Cambodian Association’s South Center. For more information, visit SPR