Partnering with The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, Baltimore Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman and leaders from the community, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently cleared the way for a million dollar project to better Baltimore neighborhoods. “We are honored that the Ripken Foundation chose Park Heights as a home for its athletic field,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake in a press release. “It’s investments like this that ensure the hard work being done in this community will not be in vain.”

Named in honor of Clarence Channing Jackson, district supervisor of the Department of Recreation and Parks for 34 years, the CC Jackson Athletic Park will be one of five Baltimore parks funded in part by The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation’s Youth Development Park initiative. The program provides low-maintenance parks with synthetic turf to children and teens in at-risk communities, while also creating a clean and safe space for community gatherings.

Along with the $1.1 million raised by The Ripken Foundation, the City contributed $1.2 million towards the completion of the park. Once completed, the CC Jackson Athletic Park will also provide character education programming and clinics for youth, also sponsored by The Ripken Foundation in conjunction with the City and local programs such as Living Classrooms. Aside from the creation of the CC Jackson Athletic Park, the City will also renovate the Park Heights Boys & Girls Club of Metro Baltimore, which will allow for indoor and outdoor programming for youth. Upon completion, Park Heights will have new basketball courts and playgrounds, with renovations to the present courts and playground equipment, a pool for aquatic activities, and open multi-purpose fields.

“A lot of kids in inner cities just don’t have a lot of clean, safe, green space to play,” said Carrie Lebow, vice president of Resource Development for The Ripken Foundation. “We really felt like this was something we wanted to give to the communities that we’re working in so kids have a place to go every day after school,” said Lebow, who believes the success of the programs lies within The Ripken Foundation’s crucial partnership with an involved and active community.

With a goal of building 50 parks in the next five years, the Ripken Foundation has helped fund five spaces in Baltimore alone, which is home to Memorial Field at the Y, the very first Youth Development Park to be built. As demolition work nears completion, construction of CC Jackson Athletic Park is scheduled to begin in Summer 2012, with a completion date of late 2012.

“There’s so much that you learn from sports that you can use in your everyday life and that’s what The Ripken Foundation and our programming is all about,”said Lebow, who estimates that the Youth Development Park to be built in Patterson Park will be completed around the same time as the CC Jackson Athletic Park.

With the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimating that obesity affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents ages 2 to 19, the CC Jackson Athletic Park will help lower these rates, which rise significantly in low-income neighborhoods.

Since 1980, obesity rates in children and adolescents have nearly tripled, with one in seven pre-school-aged children residing in low-income neighborhoods falling victim. Demolishing 41 dilapidated properties within the 4900 block of Denmore Avenue to make room for its 7-acre green space, CC Jackson Athletic Park will transform the Park Heights area into one of the healthiest communities in Baltimore City. “I’m excited about the progress we’re making in Park Heights,” said Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano in a press release. “We are well on our way to changing the direction of this distressed neighborhood and creating new opportunities for its residents.” As part of the Vacancy to Value program, which began in November 2010, Baltimore City has begun to tackle the 47,000 vacant homes that sit rotting within city limits. A $1.5 million state capital grant to Baltimore City and another $3.0 million capital grant set in motion the acquisition of 63 properties and demolition of another unkempt 41 homes.

Combined with the acquisitions and demolitions, the City has already begun to relocate 13 households living within the targeted 62 acre Major Redevelopment Area of the Park Heights Master Plan for rejuvenation. Knocking down an entire block of abandoned properties in early December, only two families await relocation within the designated space for the CC Jackson Athletic Park. Other cities included in the initiative include Collier County, Fla., Fredericksburg, Va. and Houston.


Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer