A Glassell Park Story
A more than twenty-year resident of Glassell Park, Helene Schpak understands that civic engagement is an essential part of healthy community living. “It’s giving back. It’s being part of a society, part of a community. If you care, sitting back isn’t going to accomplish anything. Pace yourself and volunteer, put in some effort, and sometimes you get some big wins out of it.”
Indeed, Helene’s volunteer involvement in the neighborhood began almost as soon as she’d finished unpacking her move there. “I was actually the first president of the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council, and they were the third certified [Neighborhood Council] in the city.” Throughout the years, Helene has been heavily involved in the Glassell Park Improvement Association (GPIA), a non-profit that serves to beautify, preserve, and advocate for improvements to local infrastructure. During her time with GPIA, improvements have taken the form of a new transit pavilion, flash street clean-ups, community events, and ongoing initiatives advocating for the preservation of open spaces like Walnut Canyon.
“Diplomacy is difficult,” she remarks. But Helene knows that listening, connection, and perseverance are the only things that lead to real change. “I just didn’t see why people [weren’t voicing] what they wanted to see happen in their community. I felt I had a voice to do that, and get other people’s opinions in as well, because many people cared. They just didn’t know an avenue to speak.”
This tireless spirit and commitment to her community, cultivated through years of AIDS activism in the 80s and 90s, helped make possible numerous projects that faced significant opposition otherwise. “I brought the first people to the table for the Sotomayor Learning Academies, who were definitely opposed to it. I had to convince [them] that this might be an appropriate site to have a high school that had open space for kids to run and play and do sports and other things.”
“You have to appreciate the moments, even the frustrating ones, to some regard…I’ve learned to celebrate the wins no matter how small because there’s always the next battle ahead.”
Helene Schpak is a longtime resident of Glassell Park. She served as the first president of the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council for its first two years. She also is heavily involved in the Glassell Park Improvement Association, non-profit that serves to beautify, preserve, and advocate for needed improvements to local infrastructure.
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