by Elizabeth McGuire
Rene Hernandez set out to change a park, but in the process changed a community.
A year ago, Hernandez was walking his dog through Kendra Page Neighborhood Park, his southeast Austin park, and noticed an excessive amount of trash. Not just everyday wrappers and soda cans, but bags and bags of household trash dumped among the oaks, picnic tables and playground. He gathered it up, took photos of the piles and reached out to the Austin Parks Foundation to make a difference.
“I just got fed up,” he said. “I’ve been living in the neighborhood for more than 20 years. I walk my dog to this park. I pick up my sister from the school across the street. I’ve been here a long time and I’ve seen little change. I got tired of it.”
Hernandez partnered with another neighbor, Erica Reyes, who had also been active at the park and who helped advocate for additional lighting at Kendra Page Park. Together they adopted 15-acre Kendra Page through APF. They started knocking on doors, inviting feedback, and gathering volunteers. Hernandez also began calling 311 every time he saw an issue at the park: overflowing trash, missing signage and graffiti.
He called when he noticed that the volleyball pit needed more sand to keep the kids from sliding on the concrete, and before he knew it a truckload of fresh sand arrived. In between his job at Whole Foods Market and his family commitments, Hernandez showed up daily and reported problems almost as often.
His persistence paid off.
“With the first changes we made, none of them came from grants—they were just maintenance and safety issues that the parks department handled because we told them about them. And it didn’t take much of my time,” he said. “I just made it a part of my day. Every day.”
When the group led their first It’s My Park Day, there was a team of volunteers eager to work.
“I started with mulching trees, which is good for gardening AND marketing. People love to help mulch. It’s easy to do and makes a big difference. You can see it right away when you drive by.”
And people did notice. Then they responded with enthusiasm and pride.
“It’s difficult in these underserved areas. People are used to having nothing. I wanted to show them how to make change happen.”
The work opened their eyes, explained Hernandez, and the neighbors love volunteering so much they want to do it every month. “Now they see that they are making a difference,” he said, “and it’s THEM, not me, making that difference.”
Even though there is an elementary school playground across the street from Kendra Page, the school is fenced and locked after hours, so the park playground is a critical place for families.
“We need more recreation in this park. We have the space, and the kids need the physical and mental aspects that come with a great park. Even 10 to 20 minutes in nature does amazing things for the body and mind. Kids need this… we all need this.”
Thanks to a Neighborhood Grant that Hernandez secured from Austin Parks Foundation, the park will receive safety lights, new bike racks and additional trash cans in the fall.
That is just the beginning according to Hernandez. Other items on the group’s wish list for Kendra Page: a basketball court, community garden, and a walking trail that loops around the entire wooded 15 acres. Of all the improvements made this past year, Rene is most proud of the way the community has rallied around the park.
“Everywhere I go I get exceptional feedback. No negativity, just positive energy. But you have to be hungry too, not just positive. If you’re not hungry you get nothing, and this community is hungry. It’s a strong community. I want to showcase that.”
Austin Parks Foundation Can Help Your Park
Are there much-needed improvements or maintenance projects at your local park? Austin Parks Foundation is here to help! Our mission is to provide high-quality parks to every Austinite, no matter what part of town they call home.
Our biggest challenge is Austin's underfunded park system. This creates problems like essential maintenance not being completed and limited access to parks across our city. That's where APF comes in with volunteer labor, park investments, advocacy and more.
Ready to get involved? Sign up to participate in one our of First-Saturday Volunteer Days or make a donation today. Our bi-annual city wide day of volunteering, It's My Park Day, is Saturday, November 2nd! Volunteer registration opens October 3rd, so be sure to find a project in a park near you. Thank you for your interest in our work in Austin's parks!
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