The corner of Blackstone and Dakota Avenues lies in the heart of central Fresno and in the heart of District 7. This corner and the families living nearby are plagued by crime, drugs, homelessness, prostitution, poverty, unemployment, hopelessness, and the list continues.
This neighborhood has one bright spot tucked away between the aging apartments and vacant spaces – Granny’s Park. This pocket park is more than just a patch of grass. It represents the hope shared by those who live in the surrounding community. Pastor Tom Sims and 4141 Ministries adopted this park and community center during the Great Recession when the city could no longer afford to staff it.
The park is now a hub of activity for scouting troops, after-school and summer programs, and has begun working with the Better Blackstone Association to build a sense of community in a neighborhood that has been left behind.
I’ve spent a lot of time in this neighborhood over the years, but it’s now my mission in my last 18 months in office to focus on helping this neighborhood join the Blackstone revitalization. The roads have recently been re-paved and the sidewalks are getting some much needed TLC.
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However, these improvements pale in comparison to what is coming to Granny’s Park. There’s no denying this park is a bright spot on a dim block, but there is one glaring absence: a playground.
A few months ago I reached out to KaBOOM!, the national nonprofit dedicated to giving all kids the childhood they deserve through great, safe places to play. After a screening process, KaBOOM! awarded the city of Fresno a grant to build a playground at Granny’s Park with the help of a corporate sponsor, Dr Pepper Snapple Group.
In July, children from the neighborhood gathered at the park to design their ideal playground. Kids ranging in age from 3-12 thoughtfully drew and discussed what they enjoyed playing on the most: swing sets, slides, monkey bars; and from these drawings KaBOOM! put together a playground that fits what this community needs and desires.
City staff has been working to prepare the site for the volunteers that will descend in September – I cannot thank them enough for all of the extra time and attention this monstrous project requires. Volunteers will arrive at Granny’s beginning on Sept. 27 to finish preparing the site for the big event.
Sept. 29 is Build Day, what eight-plus weeks of work and preparation are leading up to. Three hundred volunteers will come together to build the playground for Granny’s Park, in six hours. Yes, six hours. Opening ceremonies will begin at 8:30 a.m. with Parker of the Fresno Grizzlies leading volunteers in warm ups and Chief Jerry Dyer sharing some thoughts on the importance of parks and community to our city.
By 2:30 p.m. Granny’s Park will have a bright and brand new playground that has not only been designed by the neighborhood’s kids, but has also been built by members of the community. It is my hope and belief that this playground will become a central location for children in the neighborhood. Kids will come here to play, but they’ll also learn to collaborate, share, and look out for one another.
If we truly want to change the areas of Fresno that are plagued with too many problems to count, we have to take the power away from guys like me in City Hall, and place it in the hands of residents in these specific areas. My power to enact change from the dais is limited – I can help with the streets, lights and sidewalks. Beyond that, I rely on folks like Sims and Better Blackstone to foster a lasting change.
I am hopeful that our amazing community groups can use this KaBOOM! project as a catalyst to build the relationships necessary to help our city advance beyond the status quo.
Currently, two old portable barbecues of unknown ownership reside near the basketball court at Granny’s Park. These barbecues have become somewhat of a gathering place; families use them and congregate with other neighbors while cooking. Instead of feeling like this neighborhood is their temporary residence, people are beginning to feel a sense of belonging and even friendship.
It is this glimmer of community-building that has to grow in these pockets of Fresno that need the most attention – what better place to begin than in a pocket park like Granny’s?
Clint Olivier is president of the Fresno City Council. He serves District 7. Connect with him at 621-7874.
Can you help us out?
When: Sept. 29, 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Where: Granny’s Park, 2024 E. Pontiac Way, Fresno, CA 93726 near Blackstone and Dakota avenues.
Sign-ups: Call Alyssa Stevens, council assistant at 621-7874 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volunteers do not need special construction skills. Corporate sponsorships are also needed.