Henry Avenue Park

Posted on May 31, 2010

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Part of the crew from the most recent Henry Ave. Park cleanup. Photo by Wendy Joseph.

As recently as two years ago, Henry Avenue Park was not a place to bring the kids. In a final act of desperation, the city had taken down the basketball hoops to discourage “loitering and other activities happening in the parks.” Neglect was evident in the torn-down chain link fences, graffiti, vandalized playground equipment and years’ worth of unraked dead leaves and  overgrown shrubs.

Today, Henry Avenue Park sports new hoops and a resurfaced basketball court. The fence surrounding its entrance is brand new. On May 8 of this year, a second annual cleanup was organized by the Henry Avenue Park Partnership for Youth (HAPPY). Forty kids from the the neighborhood including youth with gang affiliations, the DPW and a city councillor pitched in to maintain the gains made in a journey that is only just beginning.

Playing basketball on the newly resurfaced court. Photo by Wendy Joseph.

Re-creating a safe place to play in the city may take perseverance, but the kids will tell you it’s worth fighting for. Highlands resident Wendy Joseph and street outreach worker Antonio Gutierrez will tell you about the sustained effort it takes. They are the main characters in this story to give back to the kids what was taken away: a safe place to play.

Wendy Joseph comes from an arts background and moved from Brighton to Lynn with her husband 8 years ago. They have no children, but being a new taxpayer, Joseph wanted to invest in the community. She always thought that “you get more bang for your buck working with children” as they have yet to grow up and become adults. So working with HAPPY seemed like a perfect fit for her.

Antonio Gutierrez was in a gang for 20 years. “It’s hard to leave a gang,” he says. “Not many of us get the opportunity to walk away.” He is now a street outreach worker in Lynn, trying to forge connections with a group of kids almost no one else wants to bother with. He had recently succeeded in recruiting some gang members, their younger siblings and other neighborhood residents to cleanup nearby Strawberry Park. A young man and the police officer who arrested him were working together. So HAPPY asked Gutierrez to help them with their project.

Step one was raising money for the park’s restoration. Highlands Coalition activist David Gass suggested they apply for a community block grant from the Office of Community and Economic Development. Joseph and Guitierrez initially approached OCED director Jamie Marsh with a just wish list.

Jamie introduced Antonio and Wendy to the DPW and key players at city hall, who helped them navigate the paperwork and bureaucracy of applying for the grant. “Knowledge is gold,” says Joseph, “and half the battle is showing up.”  Joseph laments the amount the paperwork, but the process of winning the $10,000 grant was “an education that got us on the road and in the system.”

When they were finally able to return to HAPPY with good news of the award, Wendy and Antonio asked the group to vote on how to use the money. HAPPY decided to resurface the court and put up a new fence at the entrance. In May of 2009, 150 adults and children participated in the first cleanup of the park. Two DPW dump trucks were filled with debris, including intravenous needles and TVs. In the ceremony afterward, mayor Chip Clancy presented Ward 2 Councillor William Trahant and Wendy Joseph with a symbolic $10,000 check.

Meanwhile, boys played basketball on the newly clean but yet to be resurfaced court. Children enjoyed the last remaining piece of playground equipment, a badly dented and abused slide. Others gathered on the tennis court to paint scenes of hope and color on large poster boards. These scenes would be part of a mural currently being displayed at the Ford school garden. (For more on this first cleanup see Everybody’s Park.)

But there is still more to do…

The next generation. Photo by Wendy Joseph.

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