How park groups can mentor one another
How did Friends of Hancock Woodlands become the “little sister” to The Riverwood Conservancy and how did TRC’s experience help shape volunteerism and community engagement at Hancock Woodlands? We spoke to Robin Haley-Gillin, Manager of Organizational Development & Volunteers at TRC and Sytske van der Veen, Chair of the Friends of Hancock Woodlands, to learn more about their impressive collaboration.
For 35 years, The Riverwood Conservancy (TRC) has stewarded Riverwood, a 150 acre urban oasis of woodlands, meadows and nature trails. More than 10,000 people a year take part in TRC’s nature-focused events, and their volunteers log more than 24,000 hours a year. TRC has twice received a Park People Greenbelt River Valley Connector grant to support programs that connect people to their local Greenbelt protected watersheds.
As an organization with a strong understanding and foothold in the community, TRC was in an ideal position to help a new Mississauga park group get their volunteer program started. Friends of Hancock Woodlands was established when the City of Mississauga purchased a family-owned plant nursery with plans to open it as a new garden park. From the start of the project, the City was committed to ensuring the park had a robust volunteer program including a strong community park group. Hancock Woodlands was finally opened as a public park in 2018. In 2019 they received their first TD Park People grant to support awesome events that connected the community to their newest park.
The Riverwood Conservancy is more than 20 times the size of Hancock Woodlands with a long, established role in their City. How did Friends of Hancock Woodlands become the “little sister” to The Riverwood Conservancy and how did TRC’s experience help shape volunteerism and community engagement at Hancock Woodlands? We spoke to Robin Haley-Gillin, Manager of Organizational Development & Volunteers at TRC and Sytske van der Veen, Chair of the Friends of Hancock Woodlands, to learn more about their impressive collaboration.
Expanding the movement
The Riverwood Conservancy relished working with the newly established park group because it was an opportunity to see a new garden park project come to life. Riverwood has “expanding the garden park movement” right in its vision statement, which reads:
“Working together with like-minded groups and individuals, our mission is to enable people of all cultures, ages, and abilities to respectfully connect with nature and learn about the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring natural spaces for the well-being of future generations.”
Robin Haley-Gillin admits “It is really our dream to have a series of garden parks throughout Mississauga to spread the movement.”
Rather than seeing their groups as competitors battling it out for volunteers and event attendance, the two groups saw themselves as engaged in the same ultimate goal of successfully growing the garden park movement.
Does your park group have collaboration baked into its vision and mission? What local groups could your group look to for support and mentorship? Consider these questions as you look deeper into how the two groups worked together.
From policies to plants and everything in between
The Riverwood Conservancy gave Friends of Hancock Woodlands access to their events, networks, knowledge and experience in order to get the group prepared to become officially registered with the City of Mississauga.
In the early days, TRC provided the new group with access to the core policy and governance documents they’d need to establish their Friends group. This included sharing key documents like terms of reference, volunteer job descriptions and group bylaws.
A couple of years elapsed between forming Friends of Hancock Woodlands and the official park opening. During this time, Friends of Hancock Woodlands planned and hosted educational events. At this stage, TRC provided Hancock Woodlands with marketing and outreach support by printing brochures, featuring the group on their website and sharing space at tabling events. They also provided meeting space so the group could meet and begin planning for its future.
Finally, as the park opened, TRC helped get the Friends group to get its core members working well together. TRC also offered practical support like discounts on garden materials that were being purchased in bulk and helped the garden flourish with a lower price tag than Hancock gardens would experience as a single vendor.
Sure, Riverwood is 20 times the size of Hancock Woodlands, but that’s just the start of their differences. Hancock Woodlands has its own unique natural features including a heritage woodlot and gardens flush with Rhododendron, Azalea and Mountain Laurel.
The two organizations also have a very different history and location within the city of Mississauga.
TRC has always had a strong partnership approach. They shared the importance of local collaborations with Friends of Hancock Woodlands. However, when Hancock Woodlands was seeking partners, they were able to create collaborations that were all their own. This was thrilling for Robin to see in action. For example, Hancock Woodlands built a partnership with the local food bank whereby plots in the community garden are used to grow food for those who use the food bank. Also, event attendees are encouraged to ‘pay’ for Hancock Woodlands events with donations of canned food.
“They have different partners and networks. That difference is what makes the mentorship work. It’s a chance for us to learn from one another,” says Robin.
Today, Friends of Hancock Woodlands has a core group and a network of close to 200 people who come out to events like invasive species pulls, education about the history of the gardens and gardening workshops.
Now that the group is officially registered with the city they will invariably face new challenges like working together as a committee and increasing their reach within the community.
“When we started,” says Robin, “our goal was to get the group ready to be officially registered with the City”.
Robin says that while the formal aspect of the mentorship is coming to a close, there is a strong push to ensure that the project realizes its full potential. Today Friends of Hancock continues to be “the little sister” organization to TRC, and like sisters, they are both growing together and becoming their own.
Thank you to the McLean Foundation for their support in funding this resource.