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SOUTH CENTRAL : Neighbors Coming to Aid of Keller Park

August 08, 1993|SANDRA HERNANDEZ

Walter Jones' vision of what may become of the small baseball diamond at Helen Keller Park is grim.

"It'll probably have big old weeds growing, kind of like in 'Field of Dreams,' except that was corn and this will just be weeds and stuff," said Jones, a recreation supervisor at the park.

Nearly a week after the county Board of Supervisors approved an $8.2-million budget for parks and recreation programs--nearly $3 million less than sought by the Department of Parks and Recreation--residents and park employees at Helen Keller Park say they have little cause for optimism.

"I think a decision has already been made, and I'm just waiting to get laid off," Jones said.

Officials of the county Department of Parks and Recreation say they need $10.9 million to keep parks operating at current staffing levels. With a county allocation that falls $2.7 million short of that, parks and recreation programs could suffer staffing cuts. Although no parks are expected to be closed, a reduced staff could end some recreational activities.

"We may lose some recreation positions, we may have to cut back hours of operation," said Sam Jones, assistant director for the Department of Parks and Recreation. "We just don't know at this point." Those decisions are expected to be announced later this month, Jones said.

Helen Keller Park, a 6.6-acre facility at 126th Street and Vermont Avenue, can easily be overlooked, but the park's significance in the community has caused several residents to band together to save the park's programs.

"This park itself may not be very big, but it's big in this community, said Cameron Bonner, 27, president of the parents and coaches association at the park. "If you take away this one place people can go to, then (people) are going to see their alleys and street filled with these kids that have nowhere else to go."

His words echo at the park among teen-agers such as Sidney Williams, 19, and his brother Bill, 17, who play basketball there.

"If they close (the park), there'll be a lot of gangs going to be coming here and people doing drugs here," Bill Williams said.

"Yeah, gangbangers don't come here," Sidney Williams said, "I have good memories of this place. I won a basketball championship here."

The park has an estimated budget of $101,000 for fiscal 1993-1994 and is operating with a minimal staff of two full-time employees and one to three seasonal part-time employees, according to county parks officials.

Bonner and 19 other South-Central residents said that rather than wait to see how hard Helen Keller Park will be hit, they have already launched efforts to raise money and attract corporate sponsors to keep the park fully staffed.

"What we're trying to do is challenge the community to take responsibility for this and we're asking them not to walk away, because if you do, it'll be replaced by taggers and guys who just hang out," Bonner said.

So far, the group has sponsored bake sales and can-recycling and penny-collecting drives to raise money to staff the park and keep its 10 Little League baseball teams afloat.

"If they close this park, the kids in the area can't go over to other parks because of gangs and stuff," Bonner said.

Bonner and other residents also hope to expand the park's services and begin an evening tutorial program for parents and an after-school program for children.

"If our methods are successful in making this project work and keeping the park open, then hopefully other areas will be able to do the same thing because it works," Bonner said.

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