Lisa Kuzma Interview

Lisa Kuzma Screenshot

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Lisa Kuzma Interview


Tacony Creek Park


Lisa Kuzma was interviewed on October 27 for the Oral History Project.


Ambrose Liu




Olney Cultural Lab


Copyright of this site is held by Manor College Library under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC which restricts commercial use.


Tookany/ Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, Inc.






Sound Recording

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Ambrose Liu


Lisa Kuzma


[no text]


Lisa Kuzma interview Tacony

AMBROSE LIU: All right. So today, uh, we are here, uh, uh, as part of the, uh, Tacony Creek Park oral history project, as -- uh, as designed by the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership and Olney Culture Lab. And, uh, today is, uh, Saturday, October 27th, 2018. And I’m here with --
LISA KUZMA: Lisa Kuzma.
AL: -- Lisa Kuzma. And, uh, we’re going to talk about her relationship with Tacony Creek and the park. So thank you for being part of this.
LK: My pleasure.
AL: Uh, I guess we’ll just jump right in and, uh, I’ll ask a question. What is your relationship to Tookany Creek or Tacony Creek, uh, and Tacony Creek Park?
LK: Uh, [01:00] I guess a couple different ones. I mean, it’s, uh, my neighborhood, like in my neighborhood, uh, but also the neighborhood of the school that I run. So, uh, yeah, I guess it’s almost been 20 years of being involved there, in different ways. (laughs) So.
AL: Uh, uh, uh, you’ve been part of the school for 20 years or been a resident for 20 years or...?
LK: I r-ran an after-school program at a New Life church, that opened up, uh, the end of 1999, the beginning of 2000. So even then, we were taking kids over to the park -- not feeling quite as good about it as we do now but (laughs) we were still doing it. And so...
AL: Uh, and what was the location of the program again?
LK: It was, um, inside a New Life Philadelphia church, which is where Olney Christian School is housed now. So.
AL: Um, and, uh, you said 1999. So, uh, what was the park like then?
LK: Hm. You know, uh, I was thinking about this, because probably my earliest memory [02:00] was going for a walk with a friend... I was new to this, you know, neighborhood. I just moved in not that long ago, maybe 1998. But, uh, “Oh, park, path,” you know. So we started walking down the path together, she and I. And a guy was coming the other direction. He’s like, “You two need to turn around and take yourselves out of the park. It’s not safe for you to be here.” We’re like, “OK,” (laughs) you know. So. Uh, then after that I was never in. I just thought, “OK,” like, “It’s not like a safe place to be. And I’ll take that warning for what that,” you know, “is,” uh, especially 20 years younger, uh, than I am now. Uh, yeah, so my first impressions were someplace that was, you know, dangerous and, uh, you know, not to be visited. So took a while to kind of get over that.
AL: So what then ultimately, uh, encouraged you to reengage with the space?
LK: [03:00] You know, I think largely starting to run the after-school program, and like a value for me, an-and having kids be outdoors, having space to really run, you know, the just... I mean, at the church really, at that point, there wasn’t even like a fenced-in yard. So for them to be able to get any measure of exercise, but just the pleasure of rolling down a hill, playing in the dirt, you know, like just, um, all the things that they love to do, that I think kids should be able to do. So then we started to head over, and just kind of keep a tight perimeter around them, like a tight rein around how fat they could go. Uh, you know, we’d always go over with, you know, a certain amount of adults and, you know, s-signals for someone who’s walking down the path or a dog was off his leash, you know, so they knew to gather real, you know, quickly, or mostly, we just trained them to just stay still, so they wouldn’t be a target for a dog, you know, in particular. But in those days, the creek was... I mean, there was always a stench. There was, you know, [04:00] dead animals. There were grocery carts. There was... I mean, it was disgusting. So it wasn’t totally pleasant. It was the value, I think, of having them outside and running around that kind of made us tolerate, (laughs) you know, that there’s some lack of safety and, you know, that, uh, the creek in particular was not so nice.
AL: Uh... And then over time, what sort of changes did you see with the actual creek or the environment of the park, as, uh, maybe TTF --
LK: Mm-hmm.
AL: -- WP, or anybody --
LK: Yeah.
AL: -- uh, came along?
LK: I guess I really attribute it, uh, uh, mostly to the Watershed and their commitment to saying, “All right, it’s time to clean this up.” And, I mean, that stream now is perfectly clean. You know, there’s... Like probably perfectly clean. (laughs) There’s like no trash in there. There’s no dead things in there. There’s no grocery carts, uh, in there. And [05:00] the work that they’ve done on the trail, that makes the trail accessible, even just pushing back like shrubs, you know, so that you didn’t feel like... I mean, especially as a female, for me to walk down the trail, I don’t want things really close (laughs) to the edge. I don’t want to feel like somebody could jump out, you know, at me. So that there’s like sort of a nice perimeter around, you know, the trail, that it’s paved, that they’ve extended it all the way underneath the boulevard, that you can really... So I use it, personally, you know? So I bike that and run that on my own. But, uh, to feel much better about the kids being over there, you know, too, so that it’s not this, like, “Oh, my gosh, you’ve got to be on alert the whole time” --
AL: Mm-hmm.
LK: -- you know, “that they’re there,” which, in the early days, that’s all we did, you know? Didn’t engage with the kids. I just scanned (laughs) the horizon for dogs and, you know, random people coming out of the park. So.
AL: Uh, and then did, uh, the Watershed Partnership...? Uh, how have they engaged with your students? Uh, has that been something that’s gone on, uh?
LK: Yeah, them and Audubon together [06:00] has been, I mean, the whole life of the school, really. Uh, we have like a whole generation of bird lovers, you know, over there, who can like do bird calls. So they usually work with our second- and third-graders. And, you know, Audubon’ll come, do a series of, uh, sort of environment-related activities with them, about once a quarter. The kids are keeping journals, uh, on the side. They planted a rain garden on the side of the, uh, school. You know, uh, uh, Robin and the Watershed folks worked with our enrichment crowds, or highest-performing kids, and, you know, testing the water and, uh, explaining, uh, like when you dump things into the sewer, how that ends up in the water supply, how that ends up into your drinking, you know, supply. So then the kids did a whole like postering campaign, and try and increase awareness in the neighborhood of, you know, uh, “When you throw your trash into the street or down a storm drain --”
AL: Uh...
LK: “-- this is what happens,” [07:00] you know, “to it.” Yeah. Uh, they’ve really been a great service, you know, to us, you know, and both in cleaning up the park, but educating, you know --
AL: Mm-hmm.
LK: -- s-students too and, you know, just different activities that they hold, you know, that they’ve had, uh, either parents or kids get involved in on the weekends. There’s been some great opportunities.
AL: And then, as far as your students and their families are concerned, uh, wh-what stories did you hear from them, maybe in the beginning, when you started taking them to the park, versus, you know, how do they express their feelings about the park now, like kind of a two-part question?
LK: Yeah. You know, to be honest, I think they’ve always had enthusiasm for the park. Because anything that’s a green space and anything that they can run in, uh, they’re going to be happy about that. But, you know, when it was the after-school days and it’s, you know, smelly and disgusting and we’re keeping them in a really pretty tight, you know, rein, just because we don’t feel so safe ourselves, [08:00] then they feel that, you know? But now that we can go over and it’s, uh, clean, we don’t have the same, you know, concerns that we did, uh 10, 15 years ago, then they feel that too. So then they feel like, “All right,” you know, we’re good to explore, you know, we can go where we want -- within reason --
AL: (laughs)
LK: -- not in the water, (laughs) you know. So then I think then they feel like, “All right”... Well, then I’m hoping that that starts to translate more and more into, “I can explore this on my own,” you know, “I can go with my mom or dad,” you know, “to the park.” It’s not something that’s like, a scary place. You know, “We enjoy that place. We’ve done fun science things there. We’ve had fun times,” you know, “there and we’d like to go back.” So.
AL: Uh, you mentioned, uh, starting to u-use it for, uh, personally biking. Uh, uh, you mentioned biking an--
LK: Run. Yeah. Yeah.
AL: Uh, uh, uh, yeah. What sort of routine do you have doing that? Like is it regular or...?
LK: [09:00] Yeah, it is pretty regular. So, for me, if I come home after school and think that I’m going to exercise, after I come in the house, uh, just like one out of ten. (laughs) But if I get changed at school, you know, like walk across to the park from school, run the trail, you know, and then go home, then it’s more likely to happen. But I also really enjoy running without having s-stoplights and traffic, you know. So I have to come up and cross over Rising Sun and back down, but that’s it, you know, so that I can run, you know, like a two-and-a-half-mile loop without having to, you know, stop. An-and then just enjoy, you know, uh, nature and feel like that’s more like a decompress than it is, you know, dodging cars and lights. Uh, it’s not quite so restful. Yeah, I don’t usually take my bike to school. I’ll bike sometimes to school but mostly on the weekends. Yeah, just throw my bike on the trail. And it’s about an hour. Uh, then I’ll go all the way down to the, you know, golf course, you know, [10:00] sometimes up the other way, uh, too. So.
AL: And how long is that, from -- on bi-- on bike?
LK: From end to end, I think it’s about three miles.
LK: So.
AL: Have you seen anything, uh, you know, unique and curious, you know, animal-wise or, you know, nature-wise?
LK: Uh...
AL: Are you hearing, uh, and during your time, interacting, [uh?], anyplace?
LK: Yeah, mostly, uh, groundhogs scurrying around. You know, the kids love the birds, you know. So, you know, seeing more of those. An occasional deer -- not as many deer as I would expect --
AL: Uh...
LK: -- uh, in that, uh, you know, area -- but, you know, s-still seen one or two tromp through. So...
AL: Uh, how has your interactions with, uh, the space, with the Watershed folks...? [11:00] How’s that changed or maybe not changed your -- uh, your own personal values t-towards the environment?
LK: Um, I think it’s made me, uh, realize, uh, it’s not something that you can take for granted, uh, it’s not something... I guess, and realizing it is a certain amount of work, (laughs) especially in a city --
AL: Uh...
LK: -- you know, to protect that kind of space. And so I think I feel more ownership than I did, you know? And more, I guess, realizing of my own personal responsibility. You know, like this is, you know, uh, the watershed but, even Fisher Park up here, think I... It’s not just something that you live nearby and get to enjoy, but you sort of ha-- responsibility to help, you know, keep that clean, keep that usable, you know, space for, uh, everybody. So I wouldn’t say I’m a humongous activist about that, but I guess, [12:00] uh, it has changed how I s-see my role and, uh, yeah, just willing to engage, uh, things that they’re, you know, doing, support any way that I can, uh, their efforts. Um, yeah, and then our own. You know, the kids go... You know, like for Earth Day, like that’s probably what we’re doing every Earth Day, head them in. It’s clean out trash. Uh, kind of create that same sort of, you know, uh, “This is who we’re about. We, uh, keep this place clean.” So.
AL: Being that New Life is a Christian school, uh, uh, are there any natural connections that, uh, maybe the spiritual aspect of the school is...? Uh, has that ever come up, and the relationship you have with the park connect to the spiritual aspects of the school?
LK: Yeah, I think the kids see it the strongest in science. And that’s probably the biggest way that we use it academically, science -- you know -- related things. But to [13:00] appreciate the things, uh, that God has created. And I think that’s what the Bible speaks to too, stewardship, you know? So he doesn’t just hand out gifts and then, you know, let you trash them, uh, like that you’re to be a good steward of what he’s given, you know, to you. So some of even training them to be, you know, like to appreciate and enjoy what he’s given but also to be a steward of what’s, you know, been given to you. S-so that part of taking good care, cleaning up the trash, protecting, you know, the waterways, not throwing stuff down, into the road so that it’s washing into, you know, our water supply, those sorts of things, I think, uh, is a nice connection.
AL: Mm-hmm.
LK: It’s, uh...
AL: Uh, uh, your school, is it fairly multicultural, in terms of the student body, uh --
LK: Yeah. It’s about --
AL: -- ethnic backgrounds?
LK: -- yeah -- it’s about two-thirds African American, like maybe 20% Hispanic, and then white and Asian --
AL: Mm-hmm.
LK: -- that like last 5%, 6%, 7%, 8%.
AL: Um, uh, use any cultural [14:00] differences, with respect to maybe the way the students, uh, interact with the environment, uh, and, uh...? Yeah. Uh...
LK: Yeah. I haven’t really thought on that. Uh... Yeah, not that really comes to mind. I think what’s been more interesting to me is watching city kids interact with... (laughs) Yeah. I mean, not this park but we took them out to Valley Forge, one of our first years. And they wanted to know if the deer that were there... “Are those real?” I’m like, “Oh, my gosh.” So the only thing that they’ve seen, to this point, are lawn ornaments, (laughs) you know, that deer of that kind. Uh, some of the fear that they have, you know? Like that’s always been a curious part to me. So like, they’re growing up in the city. There’s a lot of like legitimate things to be afraid, you know, of. But to be afraid of like a green space hasn’t always made total sense to me, you know? But it’s out of their like normal day-to-day life, what [15:00] they’re used to, what they’ve got experience, you know, with. So some of it’s, you know, overcoming that. Some of them are like deathly afraid of like insects and bugs.
AL: I...
LK: So. (laughs) I mean, I think that’s really good for them. But it’s like different than a kid who might be growing up in the suburbs, who would never think twice about a big grassy space and a couple bugs, uh. So.
AL: Uh, any-anything else that, leaving this interview, uh, in the course of my outreach and you thinking about it, like that comes to your mind, as far as, uh, uh, your relationship to Tacony Creek Park? What would you...? Actually, I do have a question. Like what can you envision it being like ten years from now?
LK: Hm. I mean, what I see the very beginnings of, that I would really love to see more, is families taking their own initiative to spend time in the park. Like I know one mom, in the spring, [16:00] you know, she’d pick up her kids from school and they’d go over and walk over there. And sometimes she’d even bring their bikes with her, uh, just pile them into the back of her, you know, van. And then they’d go ride down there or go for a walk.
AL: Uh, uh...
LK: But that’s like more rare now. I would love to see that be more routine. Uh, and I guess I kind of wonder... Like the same impact with urban kids, probably urban parents too. Like that probably doesn’t feel completely safe to them or something, not a normal part of their world, like, “Oh, let’s go for a walk in the par-- let’s take the bikes out and go on the trail.” You know, like th-that’s not like common thinking. So part of me wants to think, long-term, you know, not even big events but just like, uh, uh, “Everybody bring their bike to school. And,” you know, “like we’ll have a little bike-athon in there,” or, you know, some-something that parents are involved in, so that they would use it, you know, in their day-to-day life. And then, for me too, uh, I’m happier if I’m in motion there. I would enjoy like taking my beach chair [17:00] and a snack and a book. But I don’t feel completely good about being (laughs), like, uh, when I’m moving, I feel like I’m more in control and I’m not in any real danger. But when I’m sitting, uh, I don’t feel quite as safe in that. So... And I don’t know if that’s something I have to get over, to feel like I am safe there, or is that something that we need to work together towards, uh, Watershed, school, you know, Audubon, whoever else is involved, to say... And how do we kind of sort of guarantee to people, “If you want to like park it in here for a bit,” you know...? But like all the picnic tables in there like are terrible, you know, and benches. I mean, there’s not really anyplace to sit, you know. And that doesn’t really invite that. Uh, so. I mean, ten years from now, I would love it to be a place that you could like wander in and people are having picnics, people are sitting around reading a book, that, uh, the kids are up and down the trail. I mean, I see progress towards that, definitely, but I would love to see it, you know, triple, quadruple what it is right now. [18:00] That would be really awesome to me. (laughs)
AL: Uh, I feel like we can end on that note, uh, because it’s -- uh, sets up a sense of a hopeful future.
LK: Hm.
AL: Uh, so thank you!
LK: Sure!
AL: Yeah!
LK: Sure! My pleasure.
AL: Uh, uh...
LK: My pleasure.




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Ambrose Liu, “Lisa Kuzma Interview,” Hands On History- Oral Histories of the Northeast Philadelphia area, accessed July 6, 2022,