Just three years ago, Ruppert Park was better known as the Upper East Side's “Rat Park,” an uninviting one-acre park on Second Avenue between 90th and 91st Streets, plagued by hundreds of rat colonies.
Now 99 percent rat-free, Ruppert Park is on its way to becoming a safe and welcoming neighborhood space at the hands of the Muslim Volunteers for New York (MV4NY) and former president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Nancy Ploeger.
For two years, Ploeger worked tirelessly to eliminate the rat population and rehabilitate the promising park. Her determined attitude to beautify a neighborhood space soon attracted the Muslim Volunteers for New York, a community-based service organization designed to engage Muslim-Americans with the greater community in a variety of efforts to give back to the city, including improving the environment.
This past Saturday marked the inauguration of MV4NY as the park's official stewards, granted by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. As a part of the MV4NY's inaugural Environmental Stewardship Day, around 60 volunteers, ages two to 65, spent their Saturday morning amidst fragrant mulch and bulbs, weeding, planting and painting.
Founded by six Muslim mothers in an attempt to pay homage to the charity element of Islam, MV4NY wants to teach children the significance of community at an early age.
“We want to teach our kids that giving money is not the only form of charity,” Sahar Hussain, a founding member of MV4NY, said about the large number of children at the event. “When you physically work and help others that desperately need your help, you begin to realize these blessings are not just your own. You need to share them.”
Another founding member, Saima Saad, hopes that the Ruppert Park clean-up builds a larger community among both friends and strangers. “This is essentially children working to clean their own parks,” she said. “It is all about coming together and collaborating with one another to protect the environment.”
MV4NY invited several dignitaries to further engage the community. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Member Ben Kallos and Borough Commissioner for NYC Parks William Castro were all in attendance this past Saturday.
“This park really just needs attention,” said Ploeger, who previously championed the clean-up of Ruppert Park.
While Ruppert Park will be filled with daisies and tulips come springtime, Ploeger worries these beautification efforts might be short-lived due to larger issues such as erosion and irrigation.
The park is divided into four quadrants by shoddy walkways on uneven ground that wind around a well-used playground, an empty lot, a splash pad for children in the summer, and yet another empty space. The occasional broken irrigation tube pokes out of the dehydrated shrubbery like an ancient artifact.
In an earlier attempt to rehabilitate the park, Ploeger recalls spending her mornings running up and down the park steps from an inconveniently placed watering hose to the shrubs near the park's entrance. The greenery in the park is almost completely dependent on the summer splash pad run-off and the grace of Mother Nature.
“My vision is that the park will be greener and more leveled,” one of MV4NY's founders, Sanober Khan, said about the need for a more efficient infrastructure. “For all of that, we need a lot of funding, so my hope is that we will be able to get the funding and level the area.”
MV4NY hopes to engage the city in fixing larger erosion and irrigation issues, as well as welcoming all beautification efforts to teach the children in the community the importance of giving back.
“The Parks Department has some financial problems, but someone has to step up,” Ploeger said. “Muslim Volunteers for New York are truly doing a great job.”