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Friday, September 19, 2014, 11:09 p.m.
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‘Loving it’

CoHO finishes first phase of park in Brookside Village

By Tammy Keith

This article was published August 17, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

juliana-cruz-left-karla-rodriguez-center-and-brigett-trujillo-have-fun-on-the-swings-at-a-park-under-construction-in-the-brookside-village-mobile-home-community-in-conway-the-park-is-being-built-by-city-of-hope-outreach-and-its-partners-coho-a-nonprofit-ministry-offers-after-school-tutoring-and-bible-studies-for-students-and-english-as-a-second-language-classes-for-adults-in-the-mobile-home-park

Juliana Cruz, left, Karla Rodriguez, center, and Brigett Trujillo have fun on the swings at a park under construction in the Brookside Village mobile-home community in Conway. The park is being built by City of Hope Outreach and its partners. CoHO, a nonprofit ministry, offers after-school tutoring and Bible studies for students and English as a Second Language classes for adults in the mobile-home park.

About a dozen children were playing in the first phase of a new park in Brookside Village mobile-home park in Conway on a breezy 82-degree day last week, but they would have been there despite the weather.

“You should come in the afternoons. There’s like 20 kids here,” 12-year-old Jason Cruz said.

Karla Rodriguez, 11, shouted agreement from her seat in a swing.

“In the afternoon, there’s like everybody,” she said.

Brookside Family Park is a project of City of Hope Outreach, a nonprofit organization. The park is designed to give children in the mobile-home community in east Conway a place to play safely, CoHO founder Phillip Fletcher said.

Fletcher said the ministry put in a playground area called Hope Park in East Oakwood Village mobile-home park on

Robins Street. Since then, CoHO has established a presence in Brookside, where the organization has an office and offers tutoring and other activities.

The park project is part of a Humanity Matters campaign, which, according to its website, “originates from the truth of Genesis 1:27 to provoke men and women to execute large projects to support and improve the human social order.”

“The big thing is for this trailer park, like Oakwood, where it’s located, there’s no access to recreational areas for kids and no public transportation to get to the city parks,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said the Brookside Village community has approximately 80 school-age children, primarily Hispanic.

“Talking to parents and the kids in Brookside, many of them said, the moms, that it would be great for the kids to play and be right near the house. It would get kids out of the street,” he said.

Jerry Williams, manager of Brookside Village, said that is what he hopes the park accomplishes.

“My main concern I got with him on was the kids playing all out in the road, I mean, little toddlers, 2 and 3 years old on trikes, and parents not with them,” he said.

“When they started building the park, … the kids are coming together and playing in the park, and some of the parents are going out there with them and watching them, so that’s what we need. We need more of the parents involved in watching the kids.”

Erin Kingston, CoHO community director for Brookside, said the park project is a positive addition.

“The kids are loving it. It’s fun to see families be able to come together and have a place they can all safely gather and play,” she said.

“There’s a creek behind the trailer park, and they would make forts in the woods and things like that, but that was the kids,” Kingston said. “Now, moms have a place they can come sit in the shade and enjoy watching their kids, and they feel like their kids are safer because they’re watching and monitoring them.”

Shineka Fuller, 32, lives across the road from Brookside Family Park. She has four children, ages 16, 10, 8 and 6.

“They’re loving it,” she said of her younger children. “I think it’s a good thing they did for the community.”

Fuller said the park is a place for the entire family.

“I sit at the picnic table. We eat and watch them play,” she said.

The first phase of the park was finished about three weeks ago, Fletcher said. A group from Compass Church in Missouri came and built two 18-foot-long wooden swing sets, he said.

Four picnic tables were built on the grassy lot, too, and the fencing around the back of the park was repaired.

It already is a well-used space, Fletcher said.

“The first week, somebody had a birthday party out there,” he said. “Volunteers hadn’t put the swings on yet. It was just the frame, and kids were climbing it like a jungle gym.”

Karla, whose grandmother lives just a few steps from the park, said she enjoys it.

“I think it’s pretty good because we have lots of friends here, and we can play more often and have more fun,” she said.

The picnic tables are handy for eating snacks, she said, that a Conway church brings to them.

Her grandmother, Lupe Huerta, said in Spanish that the park is “muy bien,” very good.

Asked what else she’d like to see in the park, Karla thought for a second, looked around and said, “I’m good with this.”

There will be more, though.

Fletcher said the plan is to get the funding to install more playground equipment.

“The second phase is raising $20,000 for a playground that we’ll be putting in there as well,” Fletcher said.

He said some of the children flipped through catalogues to pick out playground equipment they liked.

Fletcher said CoHO is working with a grant-writing class at the University of Central Arkansas to apply for a grant.

“I plan to get it,” he said. “I’m that optimistic.”

He said CoHO will apply in September for a Community Development Block Grant through the city.

Wonder State Mortgage in Conway is the major donor, he said, and individuals may donate by going to the website humanitymatters.weebly.com.

“They can become a partner or purchase a T-shirt for $25,” he said. “All those proceeds will go toward the building of a family park.”

Then, he said, volunteers will be needed to erect playground equipment.

“I would love by the end of the year to get that purchased and built — from there, get volunteers. … I’ve already talked to Conway Kiwanis and then just other construction-minded people,” Fletcher said.

“It’s good to see everybody contribute something — parents contributing their thoughts; kids contributing their thoughts; and people from outside the community getting involved, as well, to improve a smaller community within Conway,” he said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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