All parents want their children to fit in, and play to their hearts’ content. Now, as the result of efforts from local volunteers and the Leader community, a local park recently received two grants to help give all children the opportunity to experience the joys of outdoor play.
Last week, the Oak Forest Park Revitalization Project was selected as the Houston winner of the national “Meet Me at the Park” campaign, and will receive a $20,000 grant from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and The Walt Disney Company. Community members voted for the winning project throughout Earth Month in April.
“Congratulations to the Friends of Oak Forest Park and their efforts to get the word out about their park project,” Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD) Interim Director Lisa Johnson said. “We thank the National Recreation and Park Association and The Walt Disney Company for the grant opportunity which not only funded the project; but, created an opportunity for community voices to be heard in their efforts to champion their neighborhood park.”
The Oak Forest Park Revitalization Project was one of just 16 park improvement projects to receive grant funding throughout the country.
“The community really came together with neighbors reminding each other daily to vote for our neighborhood park,” Friends of Oak Forest Park chairperson Elyssa Horvath said. “We want to keep encouraging people to help support the Playground for All Abilities now that the first phase of the revitalization has been fully funded. Construction on the inclusive playground area can only begin once the project is fully funded, and there is a critical need for one in our community.”
NRPA’s $20,000 grant will be used to upgrade the two tennis courts which are already in the process of being resurfaced. Free tennis lessons are held at the park each summer through HPARD’s Houston Youth Tennis program. To date, there is approximately $207,000 in total funding for the park revitalization, a collaborative effort between District C under the leadership of Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD), Houston Parks Board and the Friends of Oak Forest Park, who have championed the park revitalization.
The Playground for All Abilities is a crucial mission for the Friends of Oak Forest Park and the city of Houston—but more help has also come from those closer to home.
Just a few weeks prior to the NRPA grant selection, the Houston Young Lawyers Foundation extended its own helping hand to Oak Forest Park, funding a We-Saw, a wheelchair-accessible take on a traditional see-saw, created by Landscape Structures.
“The HYLF Board really thought the equipment was needed. We understand the importance of meeting children’s needs, especially special needs children. They were thrilled to be part of this endeavor,” said long time Oak Forest resident and Houston Young Lawyer’s Foundation Executive Director Lucy Fisher-Cain.
HYLF Grant Chair Cristina Lunders said Friends of Oak Forest Park made a compelling case that spoke to many members of the board upon hearing of the lack of accessible parks in Houston, and the Foundation seized the opportunity to make a difference.
“Our grant program is dedicated towards supporting youth through athletics and educational forums, so we see a lot of different grants for different types of forums,” she said. “Allowing this to speak to a specific need of kids who can’t participate in many types of athletic forums that come before us and the opportunity to make a big impact is something we wanted to do. We like to have something concrete we can do, both for the community and Houston at large.”
Chad Stevens, an Oak Forest dad of a 7-year old with multiple disabilities resulting from a rare chromosomal disorder called a 13q deletion, said the park is a godsend for his family.
“Playground equipment like this brings joy to my heart because I know that it will allow my daughter Olivia access to the fun and joy that typical children have at a playground. Olivia’s special needs make it nearly impossible for her to enjoy the traditional play structures at most of our Houston area parks,” he said. “She has a lot of difficulty with gross motor control and requires assistance to move around – we carry her or use a wheelchair. That’s why the Oak Forest Park Revitalization means so much to us and the community.”
The Houston Parks and Recreation Department has committed $10,000 towards the Playground for All Abilities construction, pending approval by City Council. Upon completion, the Playground for All Abilities will be the first public playground of its kind in the central northwest Houston communities, and the seventh accessible playground in the city’s park system.
To support the project with a tax-deductible donation, visit houstonparksboard.org/projects/oak_forest_park/. Engraved pavers and art tiles to paint can be ordered that will be installed along the Pathway to Play leading to the future playground area. The Festival of Abilities and next art tile Paint Day will be held at the park on October 28 from 3-7 pm. More than 1,000 guests attended last year’s event, raising $55,000 for the playground fund. Contact Elyssa Horvath at FriendsofOakForestPark@yahoo.com to participate as a sponsor, vendor or volunteer.