“My mom worked for the city so I’ve been around the department since I was a child,” she explains about her long history with the organization. “I started with the Department of Recreation and Parks in the summer youth program when I was 15 years old. I worked for the golf course that first summer and enjoyed it. Two years later, I became a Site Supervisor with the summer youth program. I found landscaping and gardening interesting.”
Stefanie graduated high school and wanted to go into law enforcement. She took criminal justice classes while working part-time. Her mother suggested she apply for a part-time job with RAP, and she was hired as a gardener. She enjoyed it, and when a position became available for a gardener/caretaker, she was promoted, changed her career path, and started taking horticulture classes. Eventually she became senior gardener, and at age 25 was already a park maintenance supervisor.
Stefanie gradually worked throughout the city – including 10 years in the Valley and time on the Westside including a tour of duty in the Pacific Palisades. Subsequently she came back to Griffith Park as a principal grounds maintenance supervisor. She spent time with the forestry division and the last three years as principal grounds maintenance supervisor in Griffith Park before her recent promotion to superintendent.
“I think it’s great that as a female, at the time when maintenance was mostly men, I could put my mind to it, work hard and move up through the ranks,” sums up Stefanie. “If you work hard anything’s possible. I’ve been very fortunate. And most of all, I love my job.”
Stefanie is very flexible about transitioning her focus from maintenance to superintendent duties. “I think it’s important to be open-minded and to listen to your staff,” she says. “It becomes more of a management position, which requires my trust in my staff. I try to be transparent with the community and don’t make decisions without sharing my ideas with the different community groups.”
“I listen to people. I listen to their needs, their wants and I don’t judge,” she explains about her ability to respond to various agendas and groups that use the Park. “I think it’s important to establish personal relationships with people and try to find common ground. My strong area is working with people to solve problems. I don’t like the red tape. I just like to move forward, get things done and take care of things.”
The ramifications from COVID-19 have presented new challenges for Griffith Park, especially Park closures. “A lot of the concessions in the Park are closed so many of the areas where we used to generate funds are shut down,” Stefanie says, adding that this is difficult because she has to be mindful of how to best utilize her staff. The city has restricted the hiring of additional staff. As more Park venues reopen, the allocation of personnel will be an even greater challenge for Stefanie and her team.
Regarding challenges beyond the pandemic; Stefanie would like to “improve on minimizing the amount of traffic that we see coming into the Park. We have to be creative in continuing to improve the mobility within the Park.” She would also like to see improvements for the current restroom buildings, many are neglected, are not ADA accessible, and need to be updated. Some road improvements are necessary, including pothole repairs and re-stripping for safety reasons.
“I think it’s important to think about the Park 20 years from now,” Stefanie surmises. “When I plant a tree in the Park I think about that tree for my kids and my grandkids. We have to think about the future.” Stefanie wants to “continue to work with FoGP with tree planting, tree watering and other volunteer activities when it is safe to do so. FoGP has a very important role as a part of my team. I’ve worked well with them, I’ve learned from them, and I look to them for support.”
Currently Stefanie is concentrating on making the Park “user-friendly, a place for families to come and enjoy the beauty and open space in a clean and safe environment. I want to continue to make improvements, continue to preserve the wildlife, to plant trees. I want to always work as a team and make the Park a better place for the community.”
~Linda Othenin-Girard, FoGP Board member