Voices of Volunteerism: Ponnapa Prakkamakul

6, Apr, 2020

Written by Isabel Smith, Volunteer Programs Coordinator 

During difficult times like these, it can be comforting to reflect on the things we’re grateful for. As a non profit, the Greenway Conservancy depends on the efforts of our many talented volunteers, both in the park and in the office. It is their dedication to The Greenway that makes it possible for us to have such a dynamic public space. 

Volunteer Spotlight: Ponnapa Prakkamakul

When you give back to the community, oftentimes the experience gives something back to you. Ponnapa Prakkamakul is a Community Engagement Ambassador on The Greenway, and to her, the experience has been both fulfilling, and beneficial to her career. 

“Everyone has their own ability to give back to their community, mine is my skill and time,” she said.

As a landscape architect interested in how people use outdoor spaces, Ponnapa came to The Greenway with a vision, choosing to focus her volunteerism on facilitating children’s play in Chinatown. She recalls on her first day in 2016  that she showed up, pulled out all the toys and activities, but instead of helping the kids, it felt more like the kids were helping her. 

My first day I actually felt this was my play therapy session to distress from work instead of volunteering,” she said. 

In the four years Ponnapa has been a volunteer, she has made it possible for hundreds of kids to have exciting, playful, and safe experiences on The Greenway.. 

In addition to landscape architecture while studying at Rhode Island School of Design, Ponnapa developed an interest in public art as a medium of engaging with a larger audience and the surrounding environment. The Greenway was lucky enough to be the location of her first public art piece. After volunteering on The Greenway for a few years, she was inspired to create a vinyl printed hopscotch board. This hopscotch board was not only used by children visiting the space, but was art in itself. Since then, her playful art has taken off, with installation at the Chinatown Backyard in Chinatown in partnership with ACDC and the Pao Art Center’s Residence Lab program, Pop-Up Play at MIT, and Street Seat Design Competition at the World Trade Center Plaza through a competition at the Design Museum Portland. 

What might surprise you about Ponnapa is that she does not have a cell phone. In 2013, she took a sabbatical year and moved into the mountains of Thailand to teach and observe how children play in a natural setting. At first, not having a phone was a product of her location, but when she moved back to Boston, she decided she would experiment with how long she could last without one. The experiment is in its seventh year.  

Volunteering is important to Ponnapa because not only it’s beneficial to the community and her career, but it provides an uplifting experience as well. In addition to the Greenway Conservancy, she also volunteers with the Sasaki Foundation’s SEED mentor program, Ausberger and Autism Network, and the Museum of Fine Arts. She sees the daily impact of her volunteering to her community and its children. Just as importantly, her volunteer work helps her professionally. 

“As a landscape architect, I am interested in how the design of an outdoor open space helps to support the holistic development of a child. As I do not have children, I use this volunteering opportunity to observe how children play,” she said. 

Volunteering does not have to be solely for the benefit of others, it can be a way to grow and learn yourself too. For anyone who is considering volunteering, Ponnapa’s has this piece of advice: “Try it out! If you are nervous that is natural and ok. Just show up and you will be encouraged.”

Would you like to be a Community Engagement Ambassador with the Greenway, or learn more about volunteering with the Greenway Conservancy? Check out our website