It took a village.
After eight long years of hard work, residents in the Planada community can rejoice in successfully securing a $2.4-million grant from the California Statewide Park Program (Prop. 68) to revitalize Houlihan Park with new features such as a children’s splash park, an outdoor stage, and jogging paths and exercise stations.
Likewise, it was announced that Pioneer Park in Gustine will receive $1.3 million to build a new basketball court, splash pad, playground, free play area, picnic areas and install fencing around the park.
Selected from a pool of 487 applications from across the state, the Planada effort began years ago when Building Healthy Communities (BHC) was launched, a health equity initiative funded through The California Endowment aimed at supporting residents as leaders, to be problem solvers in their communities.
Planada residents prioritized improving their park at BHC’s earliest community meetings. BHC provided a platform for parents to springboard into action, organizing and building community power while creating important partnerships with non-profit groups and the County of Merced.
This collective effort was solidified when the group submitted a grant proposal in Round 3 of the California Statewide Park Program, a competitive program to create new parks and new recreation opportunities in underserved communities across California.
Planada community residents themselves developed the specific recommendations in the grant proposal. The recommendations where captured during an eight-part series of workshops that were conducted from July to September 2018 to identify infrastructure improvement needs. The process involved coalition-building and dialogue for the whole community to present a unified voice and vision for the park.
Yolanda Trevino Rangel, a longtime resident of Planada, has been involved in this effort from day one, and notes that: “It wasn’t easy but collectively the community rallied, fought long and hard for this to come to fruition. In the process not only did we design a great park for our families, but we built a stronger community.” This provided an opportunity for neighbors to come together and build consensus around a park master plan that meets the unique needs of Planada. As Leticia Mungia, a Planada community leader, put it: “The future of our community looks brighter. This is the only park our families have access to and we must protect our precious green and open spaces that are critical to the development of children.”
Ms. Claudia Corchado of Cultiva La Salud worked with community stakeholder groups including Mujeres Poderosas (Powerful Women) and saw first-hand how, “Community and community organizing have to be connected to any system change efforts especially in low income communities. Leaders, stakeholders and funders should not plan for policy, systems or environmental changes without residents leading the change. Residents that live in these communities are the experts, the consultants and they are the solution. This effort is a perfect example of how resident power, relationship building and government agencies responding to community needs can improve neighborhoods and create healthy places for generations to come. This project can serve as a model for other communities to follow.”
As the project began to build steam the Merced County Parks Department was also in process of improving the existing restrooms as well as disabled access to the park.
A champion of this effort, Merced County Board Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza shared that: “I am proud of what the community members have been able to accomplish. In my role as a board supervisor I have been committed to making sure that communities like Planada and others across my district get the resources so that our children, who live in and among these communities, have adequate and safe parks to play in.”