Leroy Fisher can’t help but smile when talking about Hunting Park, his boyish beam spreading across his cheeks that now glisten from the tears that fill his eyes.
“Why [do I cry] in every interview?” he says. “I hate this.”
For Fisher Hunting Park is home, a place where he sees potential. It’s the present that makes Fisher smile; it’s the future that wells up his eyes.
Fisher is the president and co-founder of Hunting Park United, a local non-profit organization working to revitalize the 87-acre park that serves as the heartbeat of the community and works toward bettering the park in both the present and the future.
The Fairmount Park Conservancy helped create the organization after designating Hunting Park as one of the areas to be revitalized. Instead of donating money directly to the community, the conservancy decided to approach longstanding members of the neighborhood in hopes of creating a group devoted to both short and long-term success in the park.
“They wanted to get the members of the community together to form the community group and be the stewards of the project,” says Fisher. “They didn’t want to just drop down into the neighborhood, throw money and have it go to waste.”
It was not only Fisher’s dedication and passion for the neighborhood that caught the attention of the Fairmount Park Conservancy. Fisher also started a successful football program 17 years ago. The program now accommodates approximately 400 players a year.
Fisher hopes that Hunting Park United has the similar success to that of the football program. Through its revitalization project the organization hopes that the Hunting Park Master Plan will lead the park back to the prosperity it once enjoyed.
The plan, unveiled in 2009, is a project that will transform the park into one of the most elaborate in the city.
Improvements include a renovated picnic pavilion, a new football field and upgraded passageways, sidewalks and streets.
“It’s to make a jewel shine,” says Fisher of the plan.
In order to make that jewel shine the organization regularly looks for financial help from other corporations and other community organizations. Grants are also used to help fund various projects. Some members even go out-of-pocket to support various improvements and expansions.
“We have our hands out at all times,” says Fisher.
KPMG and Comcast are two companies lending assistance.
“Each year we have a community giving campaign and that community giving campaign is where we reach out to our employees and ask them to donate financially to the community,” says John Parach of KPMG.
Companies like KPMG believe in Hunting Park United’s vision and lend a hand whenever possible.
“I think in the general area it would be great to have a diamond,” says Parach. “To get some inspiration for the people.”
According to Fisher, events like KPMG’s volunteer day and Comcast’s “Comcast Cares Day” send a message to the community.
“On a cold day when the wind is blowing you see all these volunteers, some short sleeves, excited about what’s going on with the cleanup and that energy works itself into the community, it works itself into the children that we’re raising and they get excited about doing great things in the park,” he says.
Hunting Park United hopes that excitement will lead residents to clue themselves in to the happenings of the community.
“The goal is to help those of the surrounding community groups get involved, help them go in the direction they need to go in to better service the families and the community of Hunting Park,” says Fisher.
The organization aims to help anyone needing assistance through holding meetings on the second Saturday of each month. During these meetings residents and community leaders can join Hunting Park United to discuss neighborhood events, concerns and needs.
“When you have something that’s helpful you can come to Hunting Park United and we can get the word out with calendars, fliers, and things. That’s a reason why we’re here,” said Jorge Santana, Hunting Park United’s treasurer, during one of the organization’s monthly meetings.
Hunting Park United also strives to provide the community with ideas on conservation and pet safety with an emphasis on teaching children. Hunting Park United is working to accomplish this through events like “Community Pet Days” and by creating a flea market and community garden within the park’s confines.
“[We need to] figure out how to get our kids interested in not only the recreation center sort of things like basketball and baseball but also in the recreational and holistic opportunities for engaging with the environment,” says Santana.
The members of Hunting Park United understand that the children they help now will better the community in the future.
“When the kids are out there being positive and receiving mentorship from volunteers that just want to be in the park and make a difference, it goes a long way,” says Fisher.
Hunting Park United has already made strides in helping children with the creation of a new playground. Throughout the course of a day children of all ages swing from the monkey bars, climb the rope wall and slip down the slide.
For residents such as Andrea Thomas, the playground is a step in the right direction.
“The job is good so far,” she says. “I like to watch my brother play with his friends.”
Thomas believes the park will continue to grow with the help of Hunting Park United.
“[In the future] it will get bigger, [there will be] more stuff for the kids to do and more kids will eventually start coming.”
While residents are happy with the progress made in the park, concerns still remain.
“[I want to see] less crime, less drugs. You walk through here in the night and there’s crime and stuff going on here, bad stuff,” says resident I-Klyn Immanuel.
Immanuel hopes that Hunting Park United can help.
“[If] they could get rid of that, it [the park] will be nice again.”
According to Fisher, Hunting Park United is working with elected officials (State Representatives Curtis Thomas and Tony Payton Jr. regularly attend the organization’s meetings) and the police department to help deter crime in the area.
“We’re inviting them [elected officials] to become more of a part and they’ve already shown that. Once we bring more involvement, we hope to cut down the negativity that’s associated with the park with crime,” he says.
The revitalization plan also includes new lighting systems that will increase visibility at night, deterring crime.
The organization would also like to see the community work together with Hunting Park United to erase the trepidation sometimes associated with the neighborhood.
“One of the most telling factors is to watch the community members come out and be part of something special and take back their community from the negativity that surrounds it sometimes,” he says.
Once the community fully embraces the project Fisher believes revitalization of the park will explode. Even now Fisher is stunned at the organization’s progress.
“It’s a dream come true,” says Fisher. “It’s a feeling that I can’t even bring into words because it’s so overwhelming.”
For Fisher, that feeling is the ultimate reward.
“Positivity pops,” he says. “That right there is the payment to something you can’t put a value on.”