March 2018 Park Angel of the Month: Marlen Salazar

Marlen Salazar traveled over 3,000 miles from her home country of Costa Rica to be here in Charleston. Although many spend their free time in the Holy City indulging in southern fare, walking along cobblestone streets, or shopping on Market Street, Marlen has chosen to use her time volunteering in Charleston’s parks.

Marlen has been in Charleston since January in order to spend time with her daughter Keilin, a student at the College of Charleston. After her arrival in the United States, Marlen looked for a volunteer program where she could meet new people and practice English. She had trouble finding organizations in need of volunteers, so she began to look for places to visit–like Charleston’s parks. Marlen recalls, “I found Magnolia Park online and suddenly I saw the word ‘Volunteer’. I immediately opened the link and without a second’s hesitation I signed up for volunteer activities with the Charleston Parks Conservancy.”

Marlen’s first volunteer experience was [Garden in the Park]( at [Colonial Lake]( where she met our Director of Volunteers, Neves Richards. She said, “Neves was very nice and she received me with her beautiful smile. She introduced me to the team and they all were very friendly with me. I worked hard that day cutting damaged plants. In the end it was very pleasant to spend time with so many nice people and to help out as well.”

Marlen could not believe how friendly her fellow Park Angel volunteers were from the very first day. “They always seem to enjoy working hard in the parks,” she said with smile, “I love all of them because they have showed me they are volunteering because they truly love to be there!”

You might think Marlen volunteers with the Conservancy because of her love of nature and the outdoors but, she says, it’s her way of giving back from many years ago. Marlene shared that she had a challenging upbringing as a teenager in Costa Rica. It was there she met two American missionaries who helped her through those difficult times and shaped who she is today. “While I am volunteering in the country where they both were born I sometimes feel like I am giving thanks to this country for giving them to me,” Marlen explained. “I feel completely happy having found a wonderful place to learn how to give more of myself.”

In just the few months she’s lived in Charleston Marlen has volunteered at Wragg Square, Chapel Street Fountain Park, Marion Square, Colonial Lake. Most recently, she volunteered for Garden in the Parks in Theodora Park, where she brought her daughter for her first volunteer day. She hopes Keilin continues volunteering after Marlen returns to Costa Rica at the end of March–and that it won’t be too long before she’s back in Charleston and seeing all of her new friends.

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