Flint, MI–A $40,000 grant awarded to Keep Genesee County Beautiful will bring significant changes and developments to two north Flint parks. 

The grant, which was awarded to the KGCB by the Walt Disney Company and the National Recreation and Park Association, aims to upgrade the parks to make them more accesssible for disabled children. The grant will also go toward renovating a baseball diamond at Iroquois and a new soccer field for Sarvis. 

Nancy Edwards, director of KGCB said she is constantly on the lookout for grants that promote youth sports and accessibility within parks. Anything aimed at turning parks into a resource for children, she said is usually what she’s looking for. 

“We are particularly focused on opportunities for kids so when we came across this grant, we knew we had to apply. We are always thinking about park equity so being able to find these funds was great.” Edwards said. 

Being awarded the grant, Edwards said, was made all the more special by the fact KGCB was one of only 16 organizations in the country to receive the grant.

“I did my happy dance,” Edwards said. “This was a very competitive grant with applicants from across the country, the fact we were able to get it and that we were the only Michigan-based organization to get it felt like a big win.”

Though Edwards said there are 63 parks total in Flint, working on just a few at a time can have a big impact on the neighborhoods serve. She said changes as simple as mowing grass more often to painting old structures can change the way a park is perceived or used. 

On top of a new baseball diamond and soccer field, both parks will also be receiving bleachers and player benches as well as new goals. To build on the momentum created by the Disney/NRPA grant, Edwards said she is currently looking into grants to help pay for a coaching program that would help develop youth teams inside of Flint’s parks, a practice which has already proven successful in another one of Flint’s parks. 

For increased accessibility, Edwards said KGCB along with the adopters for the two parks is looking into creating curb cuts around the parks to increase wheelchair accessibility. Sidewalk repairs and specialized playground equipment for differently-abled children are also being considered.

Edwards said she expects all work on the parks to be completed by early May 2022.

Ladel Lewis, of Flint, stands outside Sarvis Park, near her home on the north side of Flint on April 30, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Ladel Lewis, Flint’s second ward councilperson and Sarvis Park adopter said that she, along with he co-adopter Jermaine Turner believes in the importance of parks to the surrounding community and that for many people, parks can be like an extension of their home.

“I am a firm believer that a lot of inner-city areas have hidden jewels and those jewels are our natural resources. Having access to green spaces in a city is important. Sarvis Park is like home to a lot of people.  Everyone knows they can go to the park and be among friends.” Lewis said. 

In the last year, Lewis along with Turner hosted a handful of events and cleanups in the park. There was a family photo day in the park as well as a Caribbean festival and a candy hunt among other events that helped to re-establish the park as a community hub after years of abandonment prior to getting new adopters. 

“A park that was once known among its residents for being dangerous and the scene of violent crimes now has those residents doing communal yoga there in the mornings,” Lewis said. 

Lewis explained how Sarvis Park is split into four quadrants each with unique features. One quadrant is a wooded area that is even used by a local boy scout troop to study nature. Another quadrant is home to a more traditional playground while yet another quadrant has an expansive field of grass that will soon be converted into a soccer field. 

“We are happy that Keep Genesee County Beautiful was open to allowing the funds to be used for these plans. We are in the second ward so you really couldn’t ask for anything more, we are in the northside where a lot of people are forgotten, it’s good to be getting some attention,” Lewis said.

Jashell Mitchell is a park adopter for Iroquois Park along with Invisible Giants, a Flint-based nonprofit focused on educating children on sports, physical health and entrepreneurship. She said being able to increase accessibility in her neighborhood park is an achievement that’s close to her, given that her mother is in a wheelchair.

Mitchell said she has seen firsthand how Iroquois Park’s lack of handicapped parking, smooth sidewalks and curb cuts have at times prevented her and her mother from getting the most use out of their local park. 

“You know, the street parking on the side of the park is not safe if you need to be waiting outside the car while you are getting a wheelchair out. Some of the parking is far away from the entrance too and the path there is full of cracks and potholes,” Mitchell said. 

Mitchell, who is passionate about making sure kids stay active, maximizing the use of the park and making sure its accessible to all children played a large role in her supporting the use of grant funds to go toward the acquisition of special playground equipment like swings designed to strap children down or to allow children to easily transition from a wheelchair to a swing seat. 

There are also plans for an old, overgrown baseball diamond to be renewed with crowd seating and player benches.

“This park hasn’t been fully utilized for a long time. We want to assist and help provide the community with a safe space. This park is vibrant, we want people to come here and have everything work. No broken rims, snapped nets or faulty playsets,” Mitchell said.

Santiago Ochoa is Flint Beat's Latinx Community reporter. He is always looking to write about anything Flint or Latinx. He especially enjoys investigative reporting and human-interest stories. A communications...