By Elizabeth McGuire
Big changes are happening to a small park in southeast Austin, thanks to a handful of persistent community members.
Houston School Park, which is adjacent to Josephine Houston Elementary, was recently awarded a $100,000 APF Impact Grant to build a multi-purpose pavilion that will serve both the school and its surrounding neighborhood.
Spearheaded by park adopter and community hero, Gloria Lugo, the project will bring a2,400 square-foot, covered pavilion that will be used for outdoor learning, wellness activities and community gatherings.
“I went to a lot of meetings,” said Lugo, “and when people were deciding where the money would go, I would always say, ‘What about this way? What about east?’ Every time someone asked if our park needed something, I raised two hands.”
“When we found out the news, there were probably 300 people from the community at the meeting and everyone went wild!” said Lugo. “We need this space,” she said. “The families in our community need a safe and healthy place to go.”
The park already serves as the central hub of the neighborhood, said Elia Diaz-Eskew, who has been principal of Houston Elementary for the last 10 years. During the school day, the park is alive with young kids running, playing and soaking up the fresh air.
“After 5:00pm,” she said, “the park becomes soccer central. Quinceañeras are big in our community, and right now those are often held in our front parking lot because families don’t have other places in the neighborhood to hang out. The new pavilion will serve all of these groups.”
Over the last several years, Lugo and her team of volunteers have earned grants, found sponsors, or lobbied city departments to make other improvements to the park, including safety lighting, permanent soccer goals, shade trees, portable toilets, a sprinkler system, and a sidewalk.
All these efforts are paying off. According to the Austin Police Department, the area’s crime rate decreased 35 percent after the lights were installed. Diaz-Eskew said that the childhood diabetes rate, which is high in their neighborhood, has also decreased since park improvements began.
And perhaps most fulfilling of all: the reminder that one person can create a significant ripple effect. Diaz-Eskew said Lugo’s dedication has sparked increased involvement from more of the school families.
“As a principal, I’m just so proud of our families because they have really stepped up,” she said. “They have developed relationships with each other. And when their kids finish and move on to 6th grade, they still come back here and help. They are making changes together.”
People Plus Parks is a series featuring the people behind the work we’re doing in Austin’s parks. Check out the “People + Parks” category for more.