Labor Street Park, located in the Lavaca neighborhood at 645 Labor Street, was little more than a large green space and a kickball dugout when hundreds of volunteers – residents, students, and company representatives – arrived on Saturday morning. But by the end of the day, the park space included a new playground for the community.
Volunteers arrived to the park, where they broke into construction teams, installed play equipment and began mixing concrete by 9 a.m.
The project – largely sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield – was a collaborative effort between the Lavaca Neighborhood Association, the City’s Parks & Recreation Department, the San Antonio Housing Authority, and KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit that has helped build more than 2,000 playgrounds throughout the U.S.
KaBOOM! selected the Labor Street Park after the area stakeholders collaboratively applied for a new playground. The Lavaca neighborhood contains a number of residential homes and public housing units, and for years, the area has badly needed a safe space for children to play and exercise.
The playground will officially open to the public on Monday morning (a chain link fence will surround the playscape until then to allow the concrete to completely dry), and is expected to host more than 800 children from the downtown area.
In February, KaBoom! and other park stakeholders held a special meeting in for neighborhood children and parents to describe and design the type of neighborhood they wanted to see. Attendees voted on three final concepts before they selected the winning design.
In 2015, the National Recreation and Park Association awarded Labor Street Park a $200,000 grant through The Coca-Cola Company for park renovations and exercise equipment for the community.
The park covers nearly two acres, and already hosts a downtown kickball team, a hula hooping group, and other organizations that will continue to utilize the park space, but now there’s a place for the neighborhood children to play and safely enjoy the outdoors.
“I’m so excited about it. We got the park last year when Coca-Cola came in and installed exercise equipment for the adults, which is amazing,” said Laurel Smyth, secretary of the Lavaca Neighborhood Association. “But the one thing that was missing was a place for little ones. Now they have a legitimate playground.”
Local sponsors including The Friendly Spot, Rosario’s, Feast, H-E-B- South Flores Market, Whataburger, Subway, Taco Haven, and Garcia Glass Inc. donated food, water bottles and supplies for the volunteers.
“It’s amazing what the neighborhood can do when they come together,” said Smyth.
Blue Cross Blue Shield has also invested in a shade pavilion to cover the playground, which will be installed over the next few weeks and will allow visitors to comfortably play and climb on the equipment during the hot summer months.
“There’s a direct investment, but we help aggregate volunteers and in kind investment in the community,” said BCBS Regional President Dr. Dr. Esteban López. “Our commitment is really to move the needle on public health, more than just an insurance company, but as a public health company.”
The new playground will continue the insurance provider’s efforts to improve the quality of life and health in communities throughout Texas and the U.S.
“It’s just been a real community effort, working together,” said Parks & Recreation Manager Sandy Jenkins. The City has committed up to $50,000 for the park’s site work and project services. The park is surrounded by several young trees, planted by the City last year, but still provides large, open spaces for locals and pets to enjoy.
Many Lavaca residents were on hand to help install the playscape, rock wall, and slides for the playground. Joan and Bob Carabin, longtime residents of the Lavaca Neighborhood, weren’t surprised by the large number of groups and individuals who showed up to build the playground on Saturday.
“People often say that volunteerism is dead. Volunteerism isn’t dead, it’s just taken another form and taken on other kinds of needs that weren’t addressed before” Joan said. The neighborhood has changed in positive ways since the Carabins arrived in 1993. There’s more people moving downtown, and more people venturing outside their home to explore the city.
“This neighborhood is linked to so many other neighborhoods and people. This just shows what an amazing neighborhood and city are capable of doing: bringing together people who aspire to do something (new).”
*Top Image: L to R: Volunteers Claudette Mabry, a USAA employee, and Terra Knirsch, a UTSA student, paint a new sidewalk hopscotch area for the playground at Labor St. Park. Photo by Lea Thompson