MELROSE — If Mary-Kate Mahoney was in her dream job — the first female president of the United States — there would be a statue erected in a park near the White House. It would be dedicated to what millions of men, women, and children around the country do, silently and for no pay: volunteer.
In her mind, the idea is purely logical.
“We were on vacation in Washington, D.C., last summer,” the Melrose 10-year-old explained, “and after seeing so many statues in the nation’s capital dedicated to famous historical people, I asked my father, ‘Why isn’t there a statue here for people like you?’ ”
Mary-Kate brought the subject up again once they returned home: Could Melrose build a statue to honor all of the city’s volunteers? Melrose didn’t have enough money, her father explained.
She reworked her idea. Why not name a park after all of the volunteers? This time, she took her quest directly to Mayor Robert J. Dolan at the city’s annual Victorian Fair last September.
Dolan loved the idea. “I get a lot of excellent ideas from 10-to-15 year olds,” said Dolan. “My hope is to let them know, if the idea’s reasonable, that it can happen.”
So there was Mary-Kate on June 21, giving a speech at the dedication of Volunteer Park, formerly Warren Street Park, to nearly 200 neighbors and friends. Mary-Kate and her parents wrote the inscription for the plaque: “Volunteers are the heart of humanity and the soul of a city.”
Mary-Kate had a ready example. “Like my friend, Sofia Gulkenberger’s mother, Jen. She created a school garden at Horace Mann [Elementary School] where kids can pick tomatoes, and each grade plants stuff. Now that the garden’s a really big thing, people realize how important volunteers like Sofia’s mom are.”
Other examples of selfless volunteerism can be seen in Mary-Kate’s own parents. Her father, Michael Mahoney, a sixth-grade language arts teacher in Wilmington, volunteer-coaches Mary-Kate’s basketball and softball teams in Melrose. Her mother, Patricia Muxie, who retired in June from her position as director of curriculum for the Melrose public schools, helps out at various school fund-raisers, ice cream socials, and through The Bridge, a school-community partnership that centralizes all volunteer efforts across the Melrose schools.
“We don’t have a big industrial base,” said Dolan, “so we have to be self-reliant to meet the city’s needs. That means we’re very dependent on volunteers.”
Warren Street Park has a long history of volunteerism. Almost two decades earlier, Martina Tramontozzi led the revitalization of the park. A little bit of US history resides there, too: Retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter lived across the street as a child.
By happenstance, this spring Jen McAndrew and her husband, Dave, on behalf of their neighbors, approached Joan Bell, superintendent of Mount Hood Golf Course and Public Open Space, about the possibility of sprucing up Warren Street Park. It’s what Bell called a “pocket park,” designed for younger kids, unattached to a school or other large space.
McAndrew raised $2,600 when neighbor and local photographer Dana Giuliana, whose three children play at the park, donated his time to take family portraits for $100 each at scenic Mount Hood.
Working with Bell, Maria’s husband, Ward 1 Alderman John Tramontozzi, and her neighbors, McAndrew presented a plan to the mayor: replace a 12-foot metal slide with a safer plastic slide, and add a few swings. To their surprise, the city bested the plan, investing approximately $14,000 to install additional playground equipment, plus landscaping, benches, and a picnic table.
Remembering Mary-Kate’s idea, the mayor called her back. He set up a meeting that included McAndrew, Bell, and John Tramontozzi.
“It was like a ‘perfect storm’ of all these things happening at once,” said McAndrews.
“People need their heart to keep running, like a city needs its volunteers,” Mary-Kate said. “Without volunteers, Melrose wouldn’t be the great city it is.”
This summer, Mary-Kate plans to lobby President Obama for a statue in Washington to honor America’s volunteers. In 1901, the city of Seattle set a precedent when it established a Volunteer Park to honor volunteers who served in the Spanish-American War.
Joan Bell thinks Mary-Kate just might get her wish. “She’s a very determined girl.”