What began as a large group of kids wearing Sunset Park t-shirts has become a group dedicated to beautifying the neighborhood.
Around 18 kids belong to the group which has dedicated several summers and falls to cleaning the streets and tree pits, planting flowers in the park and trees on the street, eventually turning a simple series of good deeds into a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, Sunset Park Kids.
Sunset Park resident Paul Edelstein explained that it all began with his extended family, many of whom live in the area.
“We had a group of 12 cousins all around the same age who are from Sunset Park,” the lifelong Brooklynite explained. Like all kids, they want to go to amusement parks, so in 2010 we printed t-shirts so we could keep track of them. The shirts said Sunset Park Kids and had all the kids’ names.”
It quickly became a tradition; each year, the kids designed a new logo for the shirts. Then, the children’s camaraderie combined with their Sunset Park pride gave Edelstein the idea.
“I thought, since we live in Sunset Park, let’s try and make the neighborhood better,” he explained. “When [then Mayor] Michael Bloomberg had his million tree project, we got some trees planted in the area because our block was desolate. We cleaned up the tree wells and planted flowers.” and we went to the gardener in Sunset Park itself which is such a beautiful park and undervalued.”
Then, Edelstein recounted, the kids went to the gardener in Sunset Park at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street, and asked if the kids could plant tulips for her.
“For $500, I bought 1,000 tulips and I would go out with my band of Sunset Park Kids and we would wear our t-shirts and plant,” he said, adding that it started to catch on. “People would come up to us and ask if they could help. People really liked it.”
Two years ago, Edelstein, an attorney, did the paperwork to make Sunset Park Kids a 501(c)(3) charity, and its mission broadened, as members of the group also wanted to beautify the neighborhood with murals.
“I thought it would be an amazing idea, so we raised money for it,” he explained. “I turned 50 a year ago. Instead of people giving me gifts, I told everyone, make a donation for a street mural.”
The group raised about $6,000 and then went to local businesses looking for a place to put up the mural, and they hit pay dirt at 46th Street and Fifth Avenue, where the business owner and tenants in the corner building agreed.
Edelstein and the kids got two artists, one of whom is from Sunset Park, to create the mural, which is around 90 percent complete.
And the group has continued to expand. Local businesses, said Edelstein, have contributed money to buy an additional 50 tulips to plant in the park. “Locals, kids, business owners have come together to say, ‘I’ll help and allow you to do things that will have a transformative effect on the neighborhood, “ Edelstein said. “It started really small. It’s just a bunch of kids that had a nickname that has gotten a bit larger. We want to do more.”
As time has passed, other kids have joined in on the efforts.
“When we’ve been out on the street, when we were planting in the park, kids would come up with their parents and ask what we were doing and if they could help,” Edelstein said. “We said sure.”