DCP’s PLAYlist Concert Series Returns May 5th!

The Lineup is Here!

Our crown jewel is back, and we are so excited to share more about the artists and offerings PLAYlist will be bringing you this season!

Our curated lineup covers and eclectic blend of genres and features local, regional and national artists. The concerts are simulcast on WNCU, 90.7FM. Each evening starts with DJ Travis Gales spinning his Friday Night Mix live at the park at 6:30pm. The band takes the stage at 7:30pm sharp. In addition to the music, there will be a mix of local food trucks, craft beer and other artisan vendors, as well as non-profit partners to round out the whole PLAYlist experience. There is open lawn seating, so please bring your blankets and lawn chairs. Picnics are welcome, but outside alcohol is not allowed. Leashed pets are welcome. Concerts will take place rain or shine.

Want a look back at all the magic that PLAYlist 2022 brought to the park? Check out this post with an amazing gallery of photos thanks to Ryan Moeller.

As for 2023, we’ve got quite a lineup for you! Are you signed up for the newsletter so you can stay up to date on all the latest PLAYlist news?


Interested in Sponsoring PLAYlist?

As a non-profit, DCP Inc. relies on community support, donations, fundraisers, vendors, and business and corporate sponsorships. Your gift of any size, will help to sustain the park and all that it means to you, your family and your community. In addition to our sponsors, the PLAYlist Concert Series is supported by the Durham Arts Council’s Annual Arts Fund and the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources.  Become a sponsor today!

Want to be a part of PLAYlist’s Night Market?

Our concert series is meant to be a Durham house party! We welcome artists and non-profit partners that align with the mission of providing space for community and bringing joy and art to Downtown Durham! Email [email protected] if you would like a table at the Night Market.

A Look Back at PLAYlist 2022!

What a beautiful season of free concerts, community magic, and pure DCP love.

While there are many things about the park we all love, and tons of events you that are free, awesome, and welcome to everybody, we have to say, PLAYlist is our pride and joy. The beautiful partnerships, the over the top dance parties, the way y’all show up ready to shake off a week of work together… It’s become a special part of Durham Central Park’s year. Check out the slideshow below to see just what was so amazing about the 2022 PLAYlist Series. A special thank you to Ryan Moeller for the amazing photos. We can’t thank you enough for capturing these moments of joy in the park!


PS! We are just a few donations away from hitting our end of year fundraising goal! Donate today to get more of this PLAYlist goodness in 2023!


Happy New Year from all of us at DCP!

A Holiday Message from the DCP Team

Erin and Bryce make up the small but mighty staff at Durham Central Park. Here is a message from the team about what DCP means to them.

Dear Durham,

You may recognize us as the dirt-covered people hauling a wheelbarrow through the Farmers’ Market during our regular volunteer workdays. Perhaps you’ve dropped a donation in a jar at a PLAYlist concert that was held by one of us in a comically large Cardinal Hat…

Or maybe you’ve seen us sorting waste at a Food Truck Rodeo. You’ve definitely read our letters and seen our pictures of the park through every season of the year. The point is, we’re at the park. A lot! And we want to tell you what we love so much about DCP.

The park and its surrounding neighborhood has changed considerably in the six plus years we’ve worked for Durham Central Park. But the goal of our work has remained the same: to make this space, which is so special in the growing Downtown area, accessible and welcoming to all. That is no small feat considering the challenges we face, like the fact that Durham Central Park’s operations and programming are largely funded by donations from the community.

DCP Inc. is a nonprofit. Sometimes we can feel like a broken record, but it’s a fact a lot of people miss. We’re a city park, managed by a nonprofit, with no direct city funding for all we do.

In fact, much of our work is divided between maintaining this greenspace and organizing and executing the community programs, and raising the money to keep doing it year after year. And each year we ask ourselves, “How can we make it better?” And when we’ve answered that, we ask “how can we fund these projects that make it better?” While we spend a lot of time as boots on the ground, making sure the park is safe and maintenance issues are taken care of swiftly thanks to our relationship with the city, that upkeep is largely done by us, the nonprofit Friends of the Park organization.

Our eyes and connections to the city keep things in good shape, in addition to the work of trying to make each year better and better.

Personally, our favorite projects this year have been:

  • Presenting PLAYlist, our free concert series, in partnership with WNCU, which brought thousands of people to downtown Durham, supported dozens of local artists, and gave entrepreneurial opportunities to nearly a hundred local minority owned businesses
  • Providing two sessions of a Storytime, a free craft/story/song hour which reached almost 400 children
  • Piloting DCP’s Reusable Cup program, which diverted 20,000 cups from the landfill
  • Making the gardens in the park look better than ever at our volunteer workdays, which we held more of than any previous year
  • Working with the city on the Master Plan for DCP – we’re just in planning mode but we’ll have more exciting news about it in the coming year!

These projects are mostly all ongoing, and 2023 will continue with similar themes of “more, but better”… And perhaps some new offerings too, like possibly a free exercise program (follow DCP to stay up to date on all the things we’re cooking up!)…But so much of what we are proud of and love to do at the park take time, energy, and money. We work hard to bring joy to the space and your support is so crucial to that effort!

We truly read every little note we receive and cherish every donation sent in. Your contributions means the world to us, so consider making a donation today! You can donate on our website at durhamcentralpark.org/donate or send a check to PO Box 1526 Durham, NC 27702. Our work as a small two person non-profit team is truly something of an accomplishment when you consider that DCP Inc does not receive city funding.

There are so many ways to be a Friend of the Park, and we’re grateful to each and every one of you for your support!

Happy Holidays from us at Durham Central Park, and a Happy New Year too! We’ll see you at the park in 2023!


Erin + Bryce


PS: Yes, sometimes we dress exactly alike; no it is not planned!

DCP Enters A New Era

A Profile of Durham Central Park

By Thomas Mande, Duke ’23

It’s a Saturday morning, and Durham Central Park is alive with activity. Foster Street—the street that runs through the center of the park—is lined end to end with
tents; one sells a range of ostrich products—from meat, to wallets, to feathers. The next sells organic tomatoes, and the one beyond that sells authentic Senegalese cuisine. Music floats through the air—a guitarist at one corner plays soft indie music, and a small band plays jazz
further down the road. A man in a full-body fox costume sits under a tent, offering to write visitors custom poems.

Attendees mill about the area, happy and unrushed. Young couples push strollers and walk their dogs. “Y’all wanna try some sweet potatoes?” a friendly, tall man in overalls and a big smile calls out.

The bustling scene is typical for the weekly Durham Farmers Market these days. Even on non-market days, Durham Central Park—a 5-acre park in downtown Durham—is often filled with life. The Park hosts a wide range of events, from story time for preschoolers to movie nights under the stars. Local community groups often rent the space and put on their own events.

A few decades ago, all this would’ve been hard to imagine. “I actually have photographs on a bulletin board when someone walked down the street,” said Ellen Cassily, a park board member. “I was like ‘oh look, there’s someone walking down the street,’ and I took a picture of them”

I met Ellen in the park that next Friday. It was a sunny, warm day, but the air had a distinct fall briskness to it. Ellen has been involved with the park from the beginning. She is a kind, middle-aged lady; she wore a brimmed hat, a beige puffer vest, purple rimmed glasses, and a purple patterned scarf.

Ellen first found out about the park when she was looking to buy a building down the street for her architecture practice in the late 1990s. After ensuring that the park founders weren’t planning to tear her building down—her immediate first fear—Ellen, who had studied landscape architecture in school, quickly got involved.

The original idea for the park came from two friends, Curt Eshelman and Allen Wilcox, in 1994. They hoped to revitalize the once thriving tobacco warehouse district, which had faced a slow decline after the cigarette industry faded out and was set to suffer further when Durham Bulls moved over to their new stadium in 1995.

A community park was at the core of their vision; it would feature art, picnics, concerts, and other events to bring community members together and bring new life to the area.

With help from their friend Bill Kalkhof at Downtown Durham, Inc. and other community members, the pair created a vision for the park. They worked with the City of Durham to buy the land, which at the time was several empty lots, overgrown with weeds.Today, the park is far from the empty space it once was. One side of Foster Street features a red-and-turquoise playground, which, as Ellen and I walked by, was swarmed by a gleeful group of middle schoolers whose classes had just ended. Around the same area is The Leaf—a modern-looking, circular wooden bench surrounded by upwards-shooting wooden
panels. Further up the hill is a skate park, and off to the left is a giant participatory art exhibit, where park-goers can use colorful plastic pegs to draw out images and pictures on a wall. A bridge crosses the creek, in place of what had once been an auto transmission store.

“The first part was land acquisition,” Ellen said. “We got land control. Then we were
dreaming and building and dreaming and building, and then it sort of tied off, and then dream
and build a little more.”

On the other side of Foster Street, the park features several gardens, including one edible garden, as well as the park’s most notable feature: the giant red and green L-shaped pavilion, which was designed by Ellen and installed in 2007. The pavilion was a crucial addition, because it provided space for the farmer’s market, which had previously been held in a nearby parking lot. Suddenly a thousand people were coming each week for the market. “The first time the street was closed off, and there were all these people here, I just walked down the street in tears,” Ellen said.

As Ellen and I walked around, it was starting to fill up. That afternoon, the Park was hosting the Bull City Block Party Vintage Market. This was a younger, more racially diverse, and visibly hipper crowd—it was clear many of the attendees were not shopping vintage for the first time. Vendors stood next to racks of graphic T-shirts and hoodies, which were priced from $5 to over $200.

The music—booming rap songs—punctuated by a frequent “Let’s go!” from the DJ, was a far cry from the calm Jazz and Indie music of the past Saturday. The park’s board strives to provide a diversity of events that reflect the diversity of the city in which it lies. Durham, though, is rapidly changing, presenting new opportunities and challenges.

Just as Ellen commented on the changes that have occurred within the park, she pointed out dramatic changes in the buildings surrounding it. Five years ago, the four closest buildings had been a mixture of businesses and warehouses. Now, two are luxury condos, and the other two are luxury apartments. “So those are going to be older, more well-off people,” Ellen joked as she showed me around, “and these are going to be younger, more well-off people.”

The changes happening around the park reflect greater shifts in the community. The park’s executive director, Erin Kauffman, told me that when she started working at the Farmer’s Market in 2006, there were only a handful of restaurants downtown and lots of empty storefronts. Many houses and neighborhoods were in disrepair. The city was largely Black and low-income.

In the time since, she’s seen downtown fill up with all kinds of restaurants. Companies have installed offices around the park. And the town has seen an influx of very wealthy white people. For the park’s board, these changes pose a challenge. The park was created to help revitalize Durham, and has been extremely successful in doing that. Now, however, the board and everyone involved with the park must grapple with both the positives and negatives that have come out of the change. For Erin, this means first and foremost ensuring that the space
stays accessible to all members of the Durham community.

“Our mission was to make sure that Durham Central Park—no matter what was
happening around the park, no matter what was happening in downtown Durham—Durham
central park is a place for everybody,” Erin said. “Whether you’re Black or white or rich or poor
or young or old. There’s always something that will make you feel welcome in Durham Central

Free events are a major part of the park’s strategy for keeping the space accessible. This summer, it hosted a concert series in partnership with WNCU, North Carolina Central’s NPR station. It hosts a four-times-a-year Food Truck Rodeo, a kids Fourth of July Parade, and more. Community groups are also able to rent the space for extremely cheap. The park hosts Black August every year, along with Durham Refugee Day, and the LGBTQ Center’s annual pride event. Many community members also use the park for impromptu gatherings, like vigils, protests, and other gatherings. “It’s like this community square in many ways,” Erin said. “It’s wild.”

The park’s board members also remain resolute in not allowing wealthy new residents to dampen the vibrancy of the local community. Ellen told me that one of the residents of the new buildings complained about the noise that the Batala Durham Band was making during a weekly rehearsal. Her neighbors were not sympathetic, nor was Ellen. “Everyone was like, why did you move here, if you didn’t want to be with all of the excitement going on?”

After talking with Ellen, I walked over to the vintage block party. The event had only picked up; the pavilion was now filled end to end with people browsing through racks of graphic t-shirts, jackets, shoes, hats, and more. Rap music still blared from the speaker, and the DJ let loose a frequent “Let’s go let’s go!” Aarik Graham was one of the vendors there. Aarik started digging for clothes about 10 years ago, but only started selling recently. He hunts through trash cans, dumpsters, thrift bins, and garage sales to find the best items. He mostly does it for fun, he said, but appreciates the environmental impact too. “I feel like if we can keep the old stuff alive, let’s do it,” he told me. “Like recycle, recycle, recycle. I’ll take this off and let you wear it after me.”

Though Aarik had never been to the park before, he liked the vibe, especially the access to open space and fresh air. “It’s more like a hang out, rather than a business, and that’s what I like about it,” he said. “The park makes it fun.” Jessica On, currently a junior at Duke, had visited the parks many times before. She
became a regular visitor to the farmers market during her freshman year. It became a bright spot for her during the pandemic—a place to go Saturday mornings, and an outdoor space where she could run into people, make plans, and build community. During her time in the park, Jessica also got to know some of the vendors, including a woman named Karen Casey. Casey makes fused glass earrings, and Jessica loves jewelry, so the two became close. “Every week I would  come back, and she would be like ‘Oh, I made these earnings that reminded me of you, I know you like these big earrings so I made these,’” Jessica said. “Every week I go back and look for her…I always get excited to see her.”

For each park vendor or visitor, the space means something different.

For Gaby Oluf, the woman who ran the ostrich meat stand at the Farmer’s Market, the park has been an opportunity to expand her business. She and her husband started their ostrich farm when they moved to North Carolina from California a few years ago. They had never farmed before, and having access to the Farmers Market was a huge step forward. For Cecelia Murray, who sells linoleum block prints on textiles at the Durham Craft Market, the park is a source of friendship and community. Over years coming to the market, she has gotten close with lots of the customers, who frequently show up to check out her new prints. When Ellen and Erin talk about the future of the park, they talk about continuing to build on the progress they’ve made, in a reflective, intentional way. But there are new obstacles to navigate. Parking is now expensive, making access to downtown Durham much harder for many community members. The park has struggled with homeless people taking up residence under the bridge—they work to help connect those people with social services, but the process can be a challenge. And it is also not always easy playing host to so many dogs. (“Poop is an issue,” Ellen said.)

The park has also begun to experience the wear and tear of all of the activity that happens there. As Ellen put it, “The park is getting what’s called loved to death.” In the coming years, reinforcement and maintenance will be a priority. Ellen said they are interested in raising a portion of Foster Street into an elevated, slightly bumpy pedestrian walkway, to make it clear to cars that they are entering a pedestrian zone. In addition, they hope to add Wifi. Erin emphasized her commitment to continuing to provide free events for community members and building relationships with local non-profits to ensure the park stays a home for everyone. Hannah DeNuzzi works at the Glass Jug Beer Lab, which is adjacent to the park. She’s in a drum group that practices every Wednesday under the pavilion, and she and her partner attend the Farmer’s Market every week as a Saturday ritual. For Hannah, Durham Central Park provides something that few other spaces still do.

“I think common spaces are really important,” she said. “Those places are disappearing. The public libraries and the parks and the various places you can hang out and not pay any money to be there, those spaces are really important and they’re really important for fostering community. So, the fact that this space exists and that events can happen here, it builds and builds and builds and builds, and the end result is joy and good things.”

“Even if it’s just a patch of grass, it’s so important to have it here.”

What Providing Space for Community Means

Your support of Durham Central Park is essential to the social, physical, environmental, emotional, and economic health of the Downtown Durham community and beyond.

What do we mean by that? What does a physical piece of land in Durham’s backyard do to help us all thrive? A safe, outdoor gathering space is an essential public services, a reflection of the quality of life in a community. Durham Central Park is a meeting place where:

How does Durham Central Park Inc. help these 5 Acres make a difference?

DCP Inc. maintains, programs, funds Durham Central Park – which encompasses an unending list of projects and community services four seasons and 365 days a year.


As a Friends of the Park non-profit organization, DCP Inc. raises money through donations, grant support, and corporate sponsorship to meet the needs of this essential, dynamic space in downtown. You may know that our small organization is a city-owned park, but Durham Central Park Inc. does not receive city funds to:

Follow our 2022 Year in Review by signing up for our newsletterfollowing us on Instagram, or reading the blog!  All month long we’ll be giving an in-depth look at all the ways Durham Central Park is providing space for community.

How Can I Help?

Help us reach our 2022 fundraising goal! We have so much more planned for next year, and we can accomplish these goals with your help!

We invite you to become a part of the dynamic, ever-changing, and fulfilling work that we do. You can help us financially by:

We hope you will realize your contributions don’t just maintain, but foster and nourish the facilities and grounds. Your dollars go not just to program, but to galvanize our community making way for joy, enterprise, and art. Your gift isn’t just to fund, but to invest in the social, economic, environmental, and physical health of our community.

2022 Parties for the Park!

The Fall Rollout of Parties for the Park starts Monday September 12!

We have several Parties we are excited to unveil, so join our newsletter to get the the details on tickets and all our fall offerings! We’ll have more Parties rolling out throughout the fall so stay in the loop and don’t miss out on all the fun ways to support the park.

Parties for the Park is Durham Central Park’s annual fall fundraiser. The funds raised through Parties for the Park provides 30% of the operating budget for Durham Central Park Inc. DCP is a nonprofit organization with a passion for providing space for community!

For more than 23 years, we have built the infrastructure that makes the DCP beautiful, accessible, functional, comfortable and welcoming to the entire community. The funds raised from Parties for the Park have supported many projects over the years including continuation of our PLAYlist Concert Series, the installation of benches, tables, gardens, trees and art, Mt. Merrill and our newest feature, a larger-than-life troll sculpture and Troll Trail. Additionally, the funds help to cover the usual costs for staffing, maintaining, and programming the park.

Check out the following parties below – click the images below to head to our eventbrite page for more details about each party!


Thanks to all our Party hosts for supporting the work that Durham Central Park does.

Stay tuned for more Parties coming this fall!

What’s the Scoop?

New Pet Waste Scooping Stations in the Park!

We know, we know, this is not the most glamorous park update imaginable.

But hear us out – as a public park that is managed, funded, and programmed by a 501c3 non-profit, we have a ton of regular maintenance that goes into ensuring a safe and enjoyable space where everyone is welcome. This means we spend a lot of time fundraising and working with local community partners to bring about new infrastructure that may not be as thrilling as our double-header Labor Day Weekend coming up!

Nevertheless we are still excited when we can install a feature in the park that helps us continue our mission of providing space for community! And we cannot be more grateful to Broadway Veterinary Hospital for providing Durham Central Park with stations equipped with FREE pet waste bags! When you walk your dog through the park, you’ll find the newest station at the corner of Roney St and Corporation St just down the tree line behind the Durham Central Park Pavilion.

Feel free to use these bags to help keep the park clean and waste-free. Pet waste contains a ton of excess nutrients and bacteria. In addition to it just being downright gross, when pet waste run-off into Ellerbe Creek (the waterway that runs through DCP!), it can lead to excessive aquatic plant blooms, which means depletion of oxygen in the water. When water becomes deprived of oxygen it can create a harsh environment for aquatic life, and that is not good for our environment, our drinking water, and our ecosystems! Scoop the poop with one of our new bags and do your part to keep the waterways clean!

A Huge Thank You To Broadway Veterinary Clinic!

As a nonprofit organization, Durham Central Park fundraises for every bit of maintenance work we put in to keep the park safe for anyone to visit. Supporters like you are the reason DCP continues to be a recreation destination for friends and families to enjoy year-round. If you’d like to support our work, click here to make a donation today.

Mt. Merrill Gets An Update!

So much of the work of Durham Central Park Inc. is fun, exciting, and community oriented. We love programming our favorite events like PLAYlist Concert Series and the Food Truck Rodeo (BOTH of which are happening this weekend – June 3rd and 5th!) and we love making sure they are free and accessible to anyone and everyone. 


There is another, important, piece of our work that takes precedence from time to time: park maintenance and upkeep. Durham Central Park is Bull City’s backyard, and it is so well-loved for it. With such well attended events and often-visited facilities, updates, like the resurfacing of Mt. Merrill, are necessary to keep the park safe and looking great.

Mt. Merrill Resurfacing
Resurfacing at Mt. Merrill took place last week. The new blue update will ensure that the playground is safe to run and play on.


Mt. Merrill is named in honor of Merrill Davis, a beloved Friend of the Park, who died in a tragic car accident. The play structure honors his memory every day that it brings children from all over the city. The resurfacing took one short week, and already the new updates have seen dozens and dozens of kids climbing and sliding and playing!


As a nonprofit organization, Durham Central Park fundraises for every bit of maintenance work we put in to keep the park safe for anyone to visit. Supporters like you are the reason Mt. Merrill continues to be a recreation destination for families to enjoy year-round. If you’d like to support our work, click here to make a donation today.

Presenting PLAYlist in partnership with WNCU 90.7 FM

Durham Central Park Inc. has presented free concerts in the park since the Warehouse Blues series almost a decade ago. PLAYlist began as a way to bring more concerts to the park with a wider variety of genres. When 2020 brought all it had to offer, we had our first quiet summer in the park. There were still small events and rentals, and the park was the best place for everyone to enjoy each other’s company at a safe social distance. But we missed the dance parties with folks from toddling age to octogenarians. We missed so many beautiful Durham moments. In 2021 we wanted to bring it back and we were fortunate enough to find a great partner in WNCU 90.7 FM, the local jazz station run through NCCU. Ahead of the opening night of PLAYlist Concert Series’ 2022 Season, presented in partnership with WNCU FM on the first Friday night from May to October, we thought you’d like to hear more about the good work this station does for Durham and the greater Triangle community. 

How WNCU Came to Partner on PLAYlist

Lackisha Freeman, General Manager at WNCU, has been there permanently since 2010. She spoke lovingly of Durham, the park and the station.  She enjoys so much about where she is, but she said the most exciting thing, “is community engagement. It’s also the fact that we’re helping to prepare the next generation of broadcasters and journalists, by being licensed by the university. We partner very heavily with the jazz studies program – undergraduate and master. And we actually have more of our announcers who are graduates of the NCCU Jazz program.”

Freeman originally set out to rent the pavilion for a one-time event to engage those younger folks and to have a greater presence and visibility in the community. When DCP asked WCNU to partner on PLAYlist, it was a no-brainer . “We want to reflect the music program we present… the visions being aligned, it’s been an easy partnership.”

 Indeed, Durham Central Park has relished our new relationship. WNCU simulcasts every concert, making PLAYlist widely available to anyone who wants to listen in from home. For Lackisha, “it was a matter of taking our arts presentation to a new level… [with Durham Central Park] we can be a united front and a stronger front.”

With folks feeling more comfortable at outdoor events, our two organizations are poised to be just that. Through this community partnership we are able to offer a free live performance, but also so much more. 

What Makes PLAYlist So Great

Attendees are welcome to join us on the lawn earlier in the evening ahead of the live music and grab food and drinks. DJ Travis Gales presents his live DJ set, “The Friday Night Mix” right in the park for everyone to enjoy, starting at 7pm. And in addition to local food and beverage vendors, we offer the Night Market at PLAYlist, for folks to shop and browse throughout the night. Lackisha said of the DJ set, “Travis’s show has gained popularity. In year three the Friday Night Mix brings tons of listeners. The kind of music and vibe is funk, disco, dance, and recover from the work week.”


Of the impact the concert has had on Lackisha personally, she reflects what we all feel about bringing PLAYlist to fruition. Her favorite memory of 2021’s PLAYlist series, “was the soul train line. I got choked. After everything we went through with the pandemic, to see folks let loose and engage in each other. It was a true representation of the Bull City.”


This concert series is a true love letter from DCP and WNCU to the community. To provide space for Durham to be Durham, “this is why we’re doing what we’re doing and partnering with you all at Durham Central Park. I’m excited about this first concert we’re rolling out this Friday. I’m elated we’re kicking off with six concerts. Feeling safer, learning a lot, and we’re coming back stronger than ever. I’m just really psyched.”


Durham Central Park and WNCU FM presents PLAYlist’s opening night featuring Shana Tucker, who will be giving us an “Evening of Sade”. We could not be more excited, and we could not be more grateful to WNCU for making this partnership a boon to the entire community: from everyone on the lawn, to the vendors under the pavilion, to listeners at home. If you would like to support our work of providing the PLAYlist experience to the community completely free of charge you can make a donation to Durham Central Park here, and WNCU here.


The Story of Storytime

While all Durham Central Park programs are free, fun, and family friendly (like our PLAYlist concert series which opens May 6th at 8pm with Shane Tucker!), Storytime was a program made just for kids, thanks to the most kind and knowledgeable park supporter and neighbor, Kristin Reali. Our second season of Storytime began at the end of March, and four weeks in, we’ve already had so many kids enjoying the best of the park at this wonderful early literacy offering, which is completely free to attend – every Tuesday from 10:30 to 11:30am. We are sharing a great conversation we had a few weeks ago with Ms. Kristin below, to showcase her many talents and expertise in the field of speech language pathology, to give you an idea of why Storytime with Barnaby D. Troll is so great.


Storytime with Barnaby D. Troll and Friends at Durham Central Park

An Interview with Kristin Reali

DCP: So Ms. Kristin, thank you for meeting with me! Can you just say who you are, what your background is, and what brought you to the park for Storytime?

Kristin: So my name is Kristin Reali, and I’m a former speech language pathologist of over thirty years working with children birth to six. I started out in the hospital setting, and moved out into the school setting and private setting as well, and I have always had a love for learning language through different media – whether that’s play, or music or literacy. All of those are really strong in helping children who are delayed in not only their language skills – how they’re putting words together, but their speech skills also – so how they’re making sounds to form words. And by telling stories with them and engaging children to participate in the storytelling, it’s been very effective to help them develop their communication skills. My husband and I moved to Durham in May of 2020, and it was right during the pandemic, so I didn’t think I was going to go back into a school setting as a speech pathologist. But I wanted to fill the void as far as working with children and it had been difficult finding places to volunteer during the pandemic: all the kids were remote and at home and there weren’t a lot of venues for – the libraries and Barnes & Nobles had closed down their storytimes, and I live close to Durham Central Park. I was so impressed with the setting, with Mt. Merrill, and the play space, and the idea just grabbed me, and I thought, “Oh my goodness!” This would be a fabulous place to have a storytime in a safe setting, in an outdoor setting, where we could give parents, caregivers, grandparents, and their children a time to learn language. This has been a really tough time for young children because of their lack of opportunities to socialize with their peers. And if they do have delays in their speech and language, I think parents have been a little reluctant to take them to be evaluated in school, so I thought it was a great opportunity. So I emailed Erin about my plan to see if it was something that DCP would be interested in putting on your large agenda of activities! And we met at the park and I shared some ideas and I think she ran it by the board and we launched it last march, a year ago!

DCP: So what are your goals as far as things that are important in early literacy, like, in terms of benchmarks, what have you?

K: So I initially geared this program toward preschoolers, but what I have found especially this past fall and this spring is that I’ve had younger groups closer to toddlers 18mos all the way up to five. So this is really important for how I choose my stories. The most important thing to me is that I’m not telling a story. I’m sharing a story that they can share back with me and ultimately provide an opportunity for them to then take that story home and share it well and use their communication skills and language, and also empower parents with reading to their children and involving their children in that activity. So that really is my goal. That throughout the story they can have a part too. Last spring I had a young boy join us with disabilities – he used what’s called an augmentative communication board – he was nonverbal. And that inspired me to add gestures to the story so that all kids can participate. So I have a gesture or sign each session – the other day our sign was “more” so we did, “Bear wants more.” Yesterday was pointing up and saying “to the rescue” all together. Just simple simple signs that allow a child who may not have the words yet, but first can use those physical movements which children develop before they develop communication skills.

DCP: So when you are picking the stories are there things that you look out for particularly in a story that can help you to facilitate that development?

K: So I’m choosing stories that don’t have a lot of narration but are more predictable in nature so that there is repetitive language throughout the story, so that the child can then know it’s their turn to use the words. It can be a phrase, it can be a single word or gesture, but it’s that predictability that I think is engaging for young kids because it allows them to understand the story and then share the story pretty quickly.

DCP: And you repeat songs and things like that, throughout a particular story, yes, but also from storytime to storytime – like the “Hello” song.

K: Yes, we always start our storytime with the “Hello” song, by saying hello to all our friends at Durham Central Park, like Barnaby, and Rockin’ Reuben and Mr. Pickles. So that’s something the kids have learned, and the ones that come back, I see that they’ve learned the song and enjoy it. There are a lot of gestures in that song so young kids can get up and wave their hand hello and wiggle their body, and calm their body before listening to a story. And then I have a very thematic approach with the stories I choose based on the time of year, the season, so I try to then choose a song after the story that is relevant to the season. Right now with spring it’s – 

DCP: Funny little bunny goes hop, hop, hop!

K: And the bunny hokey pokey!! You’ve probably observed this, but when the kids have heard the stories, they are ready to get up and move, and they love movement. They enjoy hopping and skipping and waving, and jumping.

DCP: Yeah, that’s another reason the park is so great for storytime. Like if someone is not in a listening mood they can take a walk to the creek or visit Barnaby…

K: Or they can climb and slide at Mt Merrill too. And that’s a great thing, I think parents can get frustrated if their child is not at the level where they have the attention span to listen to the entire story. And I think it’s helpful that they know I have a background in working with children, and know those milestones and assure them that this is very typical that they aren’t able to. In fact, one of the concerned moms who came back this season came to me at the first or second storytime and said proudly, “She listened the whole time!” 

DCP: That’s so encouraging.

K: Yeah, seeing that growth has been fun.

DCP: So, let’s talk about the crafts. Obviously the craft has something usually to do with the story and theme.

K: I try, I really try to do that. It’s just another way that the child can remember the story and listen to it. To take that craft home, and not only show the craft but tell the story and use it with their imagination, communication and language.

DCP: I think my favorite craft was the map that we made last year!

K: Goin’ on a bear hunt?

DCP: That was a fun one. It’s a great addition to just the stories, songs, being physically active but also artistically engaged. So what’s on the horizon for storytime?

K: So this coming week we have a holiday that not everybody celebrates but to keep the bunny- spring theme, we are going to do an egg hunt! And of course, I have a really good stroyt about a turkey that desperately wants to be a bunny rabbit. And I have my favorite authors.. I love Eric Carle, and I love Pete the Cat. There are some of these favorites that definitely lend to repetitive storytelling, the ease of storytelling that engages a child to tell the story with you. And that really is what i want to offer to these kids

DCP: That’s amazing. Well I hope we get a ton of people for the egg hunt, especially with the weather getting nicer. I was so surprised to see on that forty degree day upwards of thirty kids, all bundled up and snuggled for storytime!

K: I was thrilled, it was so wonderful!

DCP: And we are trying to get a coffee truck for sleepy parents. So there is a lot that is popping off at the park with flowers blooming.

K: And you have that bee hotel! I’ve wanted to incorporate that, so I’ve been looking for some age-appropriate pollinator books. I just want everyone to enjoy it, from the littles to the oldest ones who are 5. I just want everyone to get something great out of it.

DCP: Well thank you for volunteering your expertise and time to the park, I think storytime is really a fabulous offering that the park can give.

K: Absolutely, when communication is the foundation of everything, that’s so important to offer – the opportunity to to use their language skills through storytelling.


Durham Central Park’s mission is providing space for community. Join Ms. Kristin and DCP for Storytime at the Leaf (behind Mt. Merrill) every Tuesday from 10:30 to 11:30am. All the work at Durham Central Park is powered by the support of volunteers like Ms. Kristin, and donors like you! If you would like to support programs like Storytime, consider making a donation today.