Success stories: Stockton kids take back their park

Williams Brotherhood Park in South Stockton was plagued with gangs and crime. Families stopped going there and parents told their children to stay away. But a group of area youth decided they wanted their park back. They started a campaign to reclaim the park and won the support of local community organizations and, ultimately, the city. Now the park is cleaner, the bathrooms are open and families and kids are returning.

LeCresia Hawkins, special projects coordinator for Community Partnership for Families of San Joaquin, which has offices in the park, shared the story at a recent meeting of the Healthy Eating Active Living Collaborative:

LeCresia Hawkins

The problem was that for many years the park had kind of been neglected and a lot of gang activities, and other undesirable types of elements, were more commonplace in the park than children playing and parents recreating. The younger children, the youngest was five years old, started talking about how she lived near the park, she wasn’t able to play in the park, how her mom wouldn’t let her go to the park.

So, we had a group of teenagers who had gone through a training about advocating for their communities. These youth, the older youth took on the project of cleaning up the park and making the appropriate changes so the park was more accessible to the children and the families in the area.

In January they started meeting together, put together a Power Point, did a photo voice project first, of what they saw as the problems. They put a Power Point together and presented it to a city council member, who then committed to work with them to make the changes that were needed.

So over the course of several weeks they were able to make some of the changes.

The youth adopted the park and will be going through and picking up trash, cleaning up graffiti, as will other community members as well, the adults, their parents and so forth.

At one of the meetings, with the council members, the council members had brought the community service officers, and code enforcement. The youth told them about the bathrooms being locked. The reasons the bathrooms had been locked was because of the crime element. The youth did such a good job advocating — “We need to be able to play in the park” — we in our office said we would step up and make sure the bathrooms were closed in the evening when our office closed. The bathrooms would be open when the kids get out of school. So there would be a three hour window when the kids could use the bathroom, during daylight hours, so the kids while playing after school could use the bathroom appropriately rather than next to a tree or in a tunnel or other places like that.

Now there are more families playing in the park. Men are playing soccer. Mothers with strollers are walking in the park. Graffiti is cleaned up a lot faster.

The park has taken on more of a vibrant role, like it had before, and there is less of a criminal element.

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