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Mill RIver Park Collaborative 2020 Impact Report

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IMPACT REPORT November 2020

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CHANGING LIVES In 2020 amid the challenges of COVID 19 the Mill River Park Collaborative continues to serve the Stamford community through the Mill River Park and programs The Park has remained open since day one of the crisis serving as an oasis for Stamford area residents We are proud to offer a vibrant diverse green space that can provide a respite in nature for so many during this difficult time Located in the center of Stamford we provide a bridge between the east and west sides of the city and serve as a connector north to south Even now we are connecting the whole Stamford community with nature through safe supportive community engagement Despite the many trials we have faced during the COVID 19 crisis our incredible team has worked hard to adapt and maintain our keystone programs and has innovated and expanded our services to meet the urgent needs of the Stamford community By quickly implementing critical safety measures we have been able to keep our most essential programs and services on schedule and moving forward We are grateful for your support in this critical time in our Park s history 2 Mill River Park Collaborative has been determined to keep the Park open and our services available because we know that our programs have a multiplier effect providing safe quality and educational nature experiences while also providing much needed support for Stamford s working families many of whom are low income There is overwhelming research to support the positive effect of urban green spaces on the health of residents 1 Spending time in green space can lower heart rate blood pressure and stress levels while improving mood and encouraging physical activity 2 Exercise particularly when done outdoors can greatly improve mental health3 but simply spending time in green spaces like Mill River Park can boost overall well being Young people particularly those in urban areas often suffer an alienation from the natural world This is especially worrisome given the fact that the environmental field is considered one of the fastest growing employment areas and people of color and from low income urban populations are underrepresented in the industry

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Recent studies have highlighted the tremendous benefits that experiential environmental opportunities have on children in particular those who have limited access to outdoor educational opportunities 4 Outdoor education not only supports healthy child development and encourages physical activity but it also increases academic performance and civic attitudes 5 By offering young people experiential environmental opportunities Mill River Park is providing a sense of connection with the community and with the natural environment Now more than ever our goal is to continue to create important connections with nature and provide unique environmental learning opportunities for those who need them most 3

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IMPACT PROGRAMS COVID 19 has created unprecedented challenges for the Collaborative s impact programs but thanks to the unwavering support of our generous community of donors and with some adjustments we have continued to provide highquality programming to the Stamford community Stewards High School Internship Despite the COVID 19 crisis the 2020 Mill River Park Stewards High School Internship Program was as successful as ever Although we ve had to make some adjustments to the program to account for everyone s safety the Stewards Program remains an important outreach to high school students The Stewards Program introduces high school students in Stamford to careers in environmental conservation and stewardship and provides them with the soft skills necessary to successfully navigate work environments We made necessary adjustments to the program to ensure the safety of our Stewards and staff during the pandemic We accepted a smaller group of just eight Stewards as compared with the usual 12 15 We required Stewards to wear masks at all times and maintain a safe physical distance whenever possible and We revised our field trip schedule to avoid public transportation and trips into New York City It was evident from day one that the 2020 cohort was bright passionate and eager to leave their footprints on Mill River Park for years to come Every day they arrived ready to take on the challenges presented to them whether it 4

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A Steward Standout Jessica s Story Jessica Saturne began her journey as a Mill River Steward in the summer of 2016 As a standout member of the program our Program Director did not hesitate to recommend Jessica when the Park was hiring staff for the newly opened Carousel Pavilion the following year In 2018 Jessica graduated from Stamford High School and since then she has become a valuable member of the Mill River Park team by helping facilitate the Stewards Program As a exemplary graduate of the Stewards Program Jessica was our Program Director s first choice to assist in program facilitation this summer She jumped at the opportunity to help lead the program and has proven all summer that she was the right choice for the job With a deep knowledge of conservation practices Jessica has been instrumental in educating the Stewards about their role in the Park Her experiences as a former Mill River Steward and as an ongoing staff member at the Park has prepared her for the wide range of challenges and opportunities that this unique summer has provided When asked to summarize her experience Jessica said My years with the Mill River Park Collaborative have been very eventful and exciting With the amazing staff that I had the opportunity to work with I ve been able to grow as an individual and become more appreciative of the Park and their values that I now share In addition to her work at Mill River Park Collaborative Jessica attends the University of Connecticut She is currently a rising junior majoring in Business Administration 5

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was cleaning up after a tropical storm weeding through 100 degree days or managing social distancing guidelines while cleaning out the river We accomplished a great deal with this cohort and they were immensely helpful in furthering the ongoing conservation practices and strategies laid out by Mill River Park Collaborative s land care staff The Park was in need of the additional assistance because COVID 19 has prevented our usual influx of labor support from volunteers The Stewards provided critical support in tackling large essential maintenance projects throughout the Park By the end of the summer the Stewards had deepened and expanded their knowledge and appreciation of conservation and we are proud to report that all of the Stewards have expressed interest in continuing to be involved with Mill River Park throughout the school year with the extension of the Stewards Program Summer Camp Mill River Park Day Camp is an outdoor summer camp focused on environmental education and outdoor recreation for ages 5 14 Daily activities include hands on environmental education athletics exploration and creative arts Our 2020 program was held June 29 through August 14 6

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In 2020 we made a number of adjustments to our camp program to create a safe environment during the COVID 19 pandemic most specifically by reducing the number of campers we could accept We did daily temperature checks of campers increased deep cleanings of our Carousel Pavilion and increased the sanitizing of equipment We served 26 unique campers with an average weekly attendance of 20 participants One third of campers were on financial aid We continued our partnership with the Starfish Connection mentoring program and served four of their young people by providing four weeks of camp each This year we also had one student placed by the Stamford Public Education Foundation Some of our 2020 summer highlights include STEM learning with a certified elementary school educator Daily sports and recreational activities including soccer handball soft stick lacrosse water play and games Crafts and creative arts on a daily basis Fourth Grade Program With the onset of COVID 19 we adapted our elementary science enrichment program by delivering our spring lesson via an interactive Zoom session More than 250 elementary students across the Stamford district joined us for an experiential STEM lesson in their own homes The final lesson of the three part curriculum investigated the macro and vertebrate creatures living in the park river Students also discovered the variety of flora and fauna in our freshwater ecosystem A continued successful partnership with Stamford Hospital s KIDS FANS Fitness and Nutrition Services program which provides nutrition based cooking classes for campers on a weekly basis Our ever popular Wheels Club which allows campers to bike scooter and Rollerblade around the Park Outdoor Exploration including fishing in Mill River 7

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COVID 19 EMERGENCY PROGRAMS Emergency Child Care To slow the spread of COVID 19 Governor Ned Lamont closed all Connecticut schools in March 2020 local agencies such as child care facilities libraries youth centers and other regional programs also closed or significantly reduced their services These widespread necessary closures left essential workers scrambling to find child care so they could continue to go to the jobs that keep our community functioning and safe 8 In response to this urgent need Mill River Park partnered with the State of Connecticut Stamford Hospital and Dalio Philanthropies Project 26 Initiative to launch an emergency child care program Mill River Park was able to quickly convert our Carousel Pavilion into an emergency child care facility for essential workers from health care workers and hospital cleaning staff to grocery store employees and pharmacy workers anyone who was qualified to participate Our small scale high quality emergency child care program provided safe meaningful support and attention to the mental and emotional well being of these children as they navigated these tumultuous times New research from the CDC suggests that people of color are being disproportionately affected by COVID 19 6 The increased risks of infection for low income people means that we need to do all we can to provide a safe and supportive place for these particularly vulnerable children Providing a small class size within the refuge of Mill River Park s natural beauty has given working families peace of mind knowing that their school aged children are receiving the best possible care and receiving assistance with their online school learning Thanks to the partnership with the State of Connecticut Stamford Hospital and Dalio Philanthropies we were proud to offer 10 positions in our program

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this summer knowing that each one provided another family with the ability to continue their necessary life saving work Emergency Food Program In addition to providing emergency child care services Mill River Park has risen to meet another desperate community need weekend food supplies Local schools and pantries have been working tirelessly to provide meals to students during the week but that leaves families struggling to fill the gap on weekends Essential workers such as health care workers and grocery staff are often required to work weekends After a long work week with balancing child care logistics and costs with work schedules they may not have the time or funds to maintain their food supply through the weekends During the early onset of the COVID 19 crisis Mill River Park distributed lunch and learning packs to low income community members to help keep kids bellies full and provide engaging family learning materials to bring families together around a positive stimulating activity during a difficult time Through this program we have been able to fill the weekend food gap for 310 area residents 9

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FUTURE PLANS Expanding the Stewards Program Mill River Park Collaborative has initial funding to expand our Stewards programming to include programs catered to a wider range of age groups Our Green Team program will introduce rising 8th and 10th graders to Mill River Park s horticulture and conservation skills as well as hone their teamwork and communication abilities In addition to the labor intensive tasks that this group will be charged they will also be trained to identify the flora and fauna found in and around Mill River Park with a focus on native species The Green Team program will provide important preparation for entering our hallmark Mill River Park Stewards Program After completing the Green Team and Stewards Programs students will be eligible to apply for our Docents Program These rising high school juniors and seniors will be the face of Mill River Park at events and on busy weekends In this paid position students will bring to life their passion for Mill River Park and the local natural wonders we have to offer through providing activities for children and families answering questions and passing along their knowledge to park visitors Docents will be tasked with designing discovery 10 carts where they will be able to demonstrate their knowledge to the public in an engaging way Additionally these students will act as counselors for our youngest Green Team members Henkel Researchers World Program In partnership with the Henkel Corporation Mill River Park is piloting a new STEM education program called Researchers World This innovative pilot offers outdoor and at home STEM education lessons for Stamford students ages 8 10 Our pioneering program engages Stamford youth with hands on interactive experiments created to inspire curiosity in science while raising interest participation and achievement for all students The Researchers World program utilizes Henkel s sustainability focused experiential science lessons to help equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in the STEM curriculum that awaits them in high school The take home lessons also include elements of fun designed to spark a love of STEM learning

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Mill River Park After School Care Building on our successful Summer Vacation Camp the Collaborative is moving forward with the necessary certifications to offer yearround after school care Mill River Park s AfterSchool Care program will initially be housed in the Carousel Pavilion and then move to the Whittingham Discovery Center in 2022 The program will utilize the Park landscape for enriching out of school experiences with a unique focus on hands on STEM learning 11

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CONSTRUCTION UNDERWAY The Whittingham Discovery Center We are proud to share that we have broken ground on the Whittingham Discovery Center This state of the art complex on the east side of the park is committed to environmental education and fun At 11 000 square feet the Discovery Center will be a hub of free recreational and environmental education opportunities in Stamford Its construction will add to the activation of the Park with year round programs and services Once built the Discovery Center will be the largest building in the Park and will serve as the hub for operations recreational and educational programs and public services The Discovery Center will house an amphitheater an environmental exhibition space containing fish and other living park wonders three Urban Ecology Classrooms UEC a caf a rooftop garden observation deck and outdoor patios and sitting areas 12 The Whittingham Discovery Center is the ultimate manifestation of the Mill River Park vision The creation of the Discovery Center will build on the success of Mill River Park s youth science education programs and broaden the platform for delivering hands on curriculum based outdoor environmental education programs with dedicated programs on biodiversity ecosystem services stream ecology watersheds urban environmental impacts geology weather and climate Most importantly we will have the capacity to expand our Fourth Grade Program to all fourth grade students and to other grade levels in Stamford with a curriculum based on best practices supporting environmental science learning to enrich the lives of the children in our community particularly children who have lacked the opportunity to appreciate the natural environment

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14 Renovating the Middle Corridor Playground Renovations To fulfill our Park vision we are extending the park further south toward the Long Island Sound we are beginning renovations on the Middle Corridor of the park from Tresser Blvd to Richmond Hill Ave Crews have already begun removing dead trees and invasive species like the Norway Maple in the past few weeks Over the next month you will see progress as our teams regrade the riverbank and plant thousands of new perennials shrubs and trees One of the most beloved features of the Park the Mill River Park Playground was built in 2006 by 1 500 volunteers over five days In the coming months the playground will get a complete rebuild with new modern equipment a splash pad comfort stations benches and picnic tables

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COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT Our Commitment to Fitness Mill River Park Fit Club We have continued to offer our ever popular Fit Club classes including Sunrise Yoga Zumba and Bollyfit Classes are held outdoors in the beautiful setting of the Park with plenty of room for class participants and instructors to maintain a safe distance Our free fitness programming fosters community in the Park and provides a safe space for people to connect in nature while creating lasting connections to one another and improving their mental health Thanks to our partners our Fit Club programming has become a cornerstone of the physical mental and spiritual health as well as the social well being of the residents of Stamford Our diverse offerings provide something for all fitness levels and has made Mill River Park the go to outdoor center in Stamford for free fitness programing in nature especially with the widespread gym closures during the pandemic All our Fit Club classes remain FREE OF CHARGE and open to the public For safety reasons we now require advance sign up and all participants must sign a waiver before exercising In the past year our fitness programs have served 1 933 residents 15

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The Carousel Skating Rink After a brief closure we reopened the David Marian Nissen Carousel in September The stunning Carousel has 30 handcrafted animals from festive horses to more whimsical options including a rabbit frog and seal inspired by local Stamford area wildlife Our team is providing socially distanced rides on the Carousel with regular deep cleaning to ensure the safety of all patrons 16 During the winter months we are also excited to offer Stamford residents an opportunity for fun outdoor ice skating at The Steven Alexandra Cohen Skating Center The ice rink will open on November 21 with special safety measures to ensure the safety of all our skaters and staff We will continue to provide skate lessons and open skate times for kids and families in our neighborhood Visit our website millriverpark org for additional details about all of our park activities

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Halloween Since 2013 Halloween has been a favorite community event at Mill River Park This year in response to COVID 19 Mill River Park Collaborative was proud to host a socially distanced Halloween Scavenger Hunt Families downloaded an app and completed a host of fun tasks throughout the Park such as discovering native flora and fauna as well as visiting park landmarks Upon completion children received a treat bag full of goodies and their very own pumpkin Visits were purposefully staggered over two weekends and resulted in more than 500 goodie bags and pumpkins Plus lots of smiles 17

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JOIN MILL RIVER PARK COLLABORATIVE Thank you for investing in Mill River Park Together we will make Stamford a greener and greater place to live work and grow For more information on how to get involved contact Alicia Wettenstein at alicia millriverpark org Our mission Founded in 2002 Mill River Park Collaborative is a 501 C 3 nonprofit tasked with overseeing the design construction maintenance and programing for Mill River Park in Stamford Connecticut The cornerstone of the Collaborative is connecting people and nature through community engagement Our vision is a park that serves as both an oasis in city life and a vibrant diverse green space that inspires sound environmental conservation practices and learning 18 1 on K Yuen Gavin R Jenkins Factors associated with changes in subjective well being H immediately after urban park visit International Journal of Environmental Health Research 30 no 2 2020 134 145 2 ing Li Forest Bathing How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness New York Penguin Q Random House 2018 3 armel W Choi Chia Yen Chen Murray B Stein et al Assessment of Bidirectional Relationships K Between Physical Activity and Depression Among Adults JAMA Psychiatry 76 no 4 2019 4 eyla E McCurdy Kate E Winterbottom Suril S Mehta et al Using Nature and Outdoor Activity L to Improve Children s Health Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care 40 no 5 2010 101 118 5 merican Institutes for Research Effects of outdoor education programs for children in A California Palo Alto CA 2005 Alan Peacock et al Changing Minds The Lasting Impact on School Trips The Innovation Centre University of Exeter 2006 6 enters for Disease Control and Prevention COVID 19 Hospitalization and Death by Race C Ethnicity 2020 https www cdc gov coronavirus 2019 ncov covid data investigationsdiscovery hospitalization death by race ethnicity html

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IMPACT REPORT November 2020