People + Parks: Aiming High

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By Elizabeth McGuire

Steps away from an elementary school, whose mission is to encourage big dreams and possibilities, resides a park that once fell far short of its own potential. But not anymore. Thanks to a tireless group of neighborhood volunteers, Odom School Park in South Austin has seen nearly $45,000 worth of improvements in the last three years — and is working toward even more.

Volunteers Laura Bucaro and Angelica Robles are members of the Odom School Park Team. There are five core members of the group, which also includes Lorena Solis, Jeremy Schwartz and Maria Granjeno. Each member has contributed to the success of Odom in their own way throughout the years. Bucaro explained that the park team started with very basic needs. Things like water fountains, trash cans and a sign designating Odom as a public park outside of school hours.

“APF and GAVA empowered us to go speak to the city about what our community’s needs were,” Bucaro said. “The city responded quickly and we learned the importance of asking for things that PARD didn’t know we needed.”

Next came sidewalks, a working gate, and scoop-the-poop stations for dog owners. Before long, the park team was applying for grants and installing new benches, bikes racks and permanent soccer goals. Next up on their wish list: safety lighting and an improved track with a rubberized surface that, unlike the current gravel path, won’t wash out every time it rains.

Bucaro and her fellow team member Robles, said their initial goals were to address safety concerns and to increase the use of Odom School Park, and they are pleased to see those dreams realized.

“There are definitely more kids coming to play now,” said Robles. “And adults too. Kids are coming from different schools to practice baseball and soccer. We have Zumba classes. The park is always full of people.”

These successes did not come without effort. Bucaro and Robles said that navigating the city protocols has been eye-opening and humbling. “It’s not an easy process,” Robles said. “There’s a lot of checking in with one person and then another person, before you can make the right connection.”

On top of that, since the park shares space with a school, AISD and PARD must both grant permission for every decision. “It just adds another step in the process,” said Bucaro.

“Another challenge and blessing for our team is that we have native Spanish speakers,” Bucaro said. “Again, it just adds an extra step —finding translators or city officials who speak Spanish. But this effort has also brought the community together.”

No matter the language, one thing everyone agrees on: in this community, Odom School Park is the heart of the neighborhood. And any improvement in the park, improves the lives of everyone nearby. Talk about potential!

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.

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