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Groundwork News


August 11, 2004

For more information, contact:
Monte Givhan
Groundwork, Inc.
718.346.2200 ext. 108
[email protected]

A Playground for East New York

Brooklyn, New York - August 11, 2004 - It's hard for young children to play a game of basketball when there is a minivan parked in the middle of the basketball court. Or to enjoy a game of stickball when there are a few dozen cars scattered throughout their playground. But those are precisely the conditions around which, for years, children at P.S. 328 in East New York, Brooklyn, have been asked to make due. Happily, for those children, all of that is about to change.

Today, ground is being broken on a half-million dollar, state-of-the-art playground for the children of P.S. 328 and the surrounding community. The new playground will replace what is currently a one-half square block slab of asphalt, originally intended to serve as a play space for the 800 elementary school students who attend P.S. 328, but which has nevertheless functioned as a make-shift parking lot for the last several years.

"I think this is a great idea, and long overdue," states Rebecca Scott, a resident of the Unity Houses, a public housing complex located just up the street from where the new playground will be located. "As a parent, it's important to me that my children have a clean, fun, safe place to play. This neighborhood has needed something like this for a long time. I'm just grateful that some one is finally paying attention."

East New York is a geographically isolated section of Brooklyn, inhabited predominantly by African-Americans, Latinos, and Caribbean immigrants. It is one of the poorest communities in New York City, with over 60% of the children living below poverty levels. This is significant because, with 36% of its population age 19 below, East New York has one of the highest concentrations of youth citywide.

"It seems like a lot of people don't really care what's going on around here," says Kimberly Schuler, another resident of the neighborhood. "So we are starting to take on a lot of things on our own. This playground shows that if we pull together and work together, there's nothing we can't achieve."

Ms. Schuler is part of a group of twenty-five local residents who recently began volunteering with a community-based organization called Groundwork, Inc. to organize and improve their community. Groundwork, whose office is located just two blocks from P.S. 328 and the new playground site, is a nonprofit organization that runs literacy-based summer camps and after-school programs in three public schools in East New York, including P.S. 328. In March, Groundwork launched its community organizing initiative, which took on the playground project.

"Recreation is one of our organizing campaign's primary areas of focus. We want the kids around here to have recreational outlets so they can stay out of trouble and avoid being harassed by the police," states Ms. Schuler.

The half-million dollar cost of designing and constructing the playground is being underwritten through a grant from the Trust for Public Land, a San Francisco based non-profit organization. Established in 1978, the New York City Program is the Trust for Public Land's oldest and largest urban initiative. TPL's City Spaces program develops new community playgrounds in underserved city neighborhoods. City Spaces is a public-private partnership, in that each playground is a permanent addition to New York City's parks system, and local groups -- including schools, housing organizations, youth service agencies and community garden clubs -- share responsibility for long-term maintenance and public programs. The first City Spaces playground, located in the South Bronx, was completed in late-1996. Two more sites opened in 1998, in East Harlem and the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and in 2001, three more playgrounds were completed, one more on the Lower East Side and two more in the South Bronx.

The P.S. 328 playground project is a three-way partnership between TPL, Groundwork, and P.S. 328. It will be used by the children of P.S. 328 during school hours and will be open for use by the neighborhood when school is closed.

"We wanted to take on this project because we thought it would engage the community in something positive," says Richard Buery, founder and executive director of Groundwork. "It's been a positive experience for everyone. There's no way this playground project could have succeeded without all the help and support from the principal and staff at P.S. 328, and of course, none of this would have been possible if not for the funding and technical support provided by Trust for Public Land."

Still, the lion share of the credit for making the playground a reality must go to the children themselves. "Over the last five months, a group of students from P.S. 328 and from Groundwork have been meeting each week with a team of professional designers and architects to design the playground," explains Douglas Avila, the principal at P.S. 328. "The kids did everything, from soup to nuts. They did an initial neighborhood survey to see what people wanted in the playground, they visited other playgrounds around the city to come up with ideas, and after they came up with two possible designs, they circulated those plans along with a questionnaire in order to get more feedback. There were community meetings where anyone who wanted to could come and have input. They really went out of their way to get everyone involved." Mr. Avila continued, "I'm so excited, because I know that when this playground is completed next spring, it will be more than just a nice place to play. It will represent something the entire community can take pride and ownership in, because they are the ones who designed it."

About Groundwork:

Founded by Richard Buery and Andrea Schorr in 2002, Groundwork's mission is to help neighbors build powerful communities. We identify small neighborhoods, typically public housing developments and the blocks that surround them, and work with community members and institutions to provide high-quality educational programs and support services to the children and families who live there. Our after-school and summer programs for elementary and middle school children give them the skills and confidence they need to become engaged, educated citizens. Our work experience and college preparation programs for teenagers teach youth to become leaders while guiding them to success in academics and in life. Our programs for adults offer parents and other community members the resources they need to support their families and build organized community power. Major support for Groundwork is provided by the New York State Department of Education, The Blue Ridge Foundation New York, the Robin Hood Foundation, The Corporation for National and Community Service (AmeriCorps), the Goldman Sachs Foundation, the Altman Foundation, the Charles Hayden Foundation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Pinkerton Foundation, the New York Foundation, the New York Community Trust, and many other corporations, foundations, and individuals.

About Trust for Public Land :

Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land is the only national nonprofit working exclusively to protect land for human enjoyment and well-being. TPL connects people to land through parks, recreation areas, working lands, and natural open spaces ensuring livable communities for generations to come. TPL's Parks for People initiative works in cities across America to ensure that everyone--in particular every child-enjoys access to a park, playground, or open space. Established in 1978, the New York City Program is the Trust for Public Land's oldest and largest urban initiative. For more information, visit www.tpl.org.

About the New York Life Foundation:

Established in 1979 by New York Life Insurance Company, the New York Life Foundation (www.newyorklifefoundation.org) is the major vehicle through which the company channels contributions to national and local nonprofit organizations. Through its Nurturing the Children effort, the foundation supports organizations, programs, and services that target young people, particularly in the areas of mentoring, safe places to learn and grow, and educational enhancement opportunities. Through Volunteers for LIFE, its national community involvement initiative, New York Life also encourages volunteer participation by its employees, agents, and retirees.

About the Charles Hayden Foundation:

The Charles Hayden Foundation seeks to promote the mental, moral, and physical development of children and youth ages three to 18 in the New York and Boston metropolitan areas. The foundation focus is on those institutions and programs serving youth most at risk of not reaching their full potential, especially youth in low-income communities.

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