Visit Carroll Park, Brooklyn, in the warm months, and you will most likely be witness to a busy hive of children’s activities being expertly, patiently and lovingly overseen by Kathleen Henderson. Dubbed the “den mother of Carroll Park”, Ms. Henderson is a treasure to the Carroll Gardens community. For the last 16 years, she has worked as a playground associate for the New York City Parks Department, entertaining Carroll Gardens’ children with arts and crafts, organized games and recreation projects during the spring and summer months. In the fall, she turns the park house into a “playhouse”, and also organizes sign language and Spanish classes.
Ms. Henderson, herself a mother of two, grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and moved to New York City when she was 20. Not long after, she settled down in Brooklyn, where she has lived ever since. Ms. Henderson is credited with keeping the park safe and welcoming for all. She knows many of the children by name. Often neighborhood teens stop by to say hello, having known her since they were toddlers. Ms. Henderson’s presence in Carroll Park has also led to a reduction in graffiti and vandalism and has increased community spirit and support for the park and its activities, including the Carroll Park Summer Concert Series, film screenings and seasonal events such as the Halloween Parade.
To the dismay of the Carroll Gardens community, Ms. Henderson’s position was eliminated in 2011 in a round of budget cuts. As the community and local officials rallied around her, the Parks Department ultimately reinstated her position.
Neighborhood mom, grandmother, sitter, and friend to many, Ms. Henderson has turned her job into more than an occupation. She has improved Carroll Park in ways no one anticipated. Over the last 16 years the community has seen Carroll Park turn from a neglected, avoided park to become the heart of the neighborhood – and Ms. Henderson has been a key force behind that transformation.