For years, Hunting Park United has worked hard to restore Hunting Park and the surrounding community to its former glory. Before the park became a breeding ground for drugs and crime, it was a centerpiece in North Philadelphia for sports, music and family outings.
Leroy Fisher, a resident of Hunting Park, first began his heavy involvement in the community in 1992 when he started the Hunting Park Aztecs after-school sports program. In 2009, that activism eventually evolved into Hunting Park United, an organization that took a stand against the issues that plagued the community. Fisher serves as the organization’s co-founder and president.
“We’re able to be the steering committee, the community’s voice with the projects that happen here in the park,” Fisher said.
Every month, residents, local leaders and representatives of various organizations meet at the Hunting Park Recreation Center to discuss problems and advancements as well as create initiatives for the community.
Dec. 1 marked the opening of Hunting Park’s branch of the Esperanza Health Center. As a result of community outreach, federal grants were allotted to the construction of the health center. ChrisAnne Smith, community relations and programs coordinator for Esperanza Health Center, expressed her knowledge of the need in the community for health facilities.
“There are very few health centers in and around Hunting Park. There are private doctors offices that the community has expressed dissatisfaction and disappointment in,” Smith said. “We’re glad to be here because the need is very great in Hunting Park.”
The February meeting harbored over 40 representatives from many organizations such as the Enterprise Center, the Lenfest Center, local church groups, community activists and the Food Trust.
The Fairmount Park Conservancy has been an essential tool in the revitalization project. The conservancy started its work in Hunting Park in 2008, then began its collaboration with Hunting Park United in 2009 to begin phase one of the project. Since then, both organizations have worked together closely to ensure that the park becomes a safe haven for the community once again.
“The conservancy is an angel in the sky,” Fisher said. “They came looking for residents who wanted to be apart of taking back this area. Luckily I was able to be apart of that and I just think it’s a blessing to take part.”
Meg Holscher, director of development for the Fairmount Park Conservancy, shared a similar sentiment while working on this project.
“Seeing that it is a network of partners that are working together to lift of this park, that is what’s truly amazing about these meetings,” Holscher said. “It’s an honor for us to work with this community. “
Phase one of the revitalization process includes the baseball and football fields, tennis courts, two playgrounds, a community garden, a farmers’ market and road lighting. The first part of phase two will be the restoration of the concession stands in the park, which will commence by the end of the year. Joint efforts by the conservancy and Hunting Park United will also include events for Philadelphia’s “Love Your Park Week” this May and a Family Fun Day by the start of the summer. By creating new events and programs in the park, it is expected that love and memories will fill the park once again.
“What we’re hearing from people is a lot memories of how people used this park and we’re seeing that people are starting to use it again that way,” Holscher said.
Sharon Whaley, a community activist and 45-year resident of Hunting Park, started attending the meetings back in 2009 and brought her friends to partake in the revitalization.
“This park was split for a long time, but now it’s starting to come together and people are starting to see the changes such as the community garden and the lights,” Whaley said. “They want to know what’s going on! It’s really bringing people back into the park.”
With the many new developments occurring in and around the park, teamwork became the operative word when getting things accomplished. Steve Horton, from the Enterprise Center, said he believes the key to the revitalization efforts is contained within the residents of Hunting Park.
“It’s essentially being able to control your own destiny. We’re of the strong belief that it’s about we, not me. And it’s working with folks as a team and making sure it’s a collaborative effort,” Horton said. “This needs to be a locally owned, locally operated type of venture with stake holders from the community.”
With the new lights lining the park streets and the dedication ceremony for the revival of the baseball field scheduled for April 13, Hunting Park United showed no signs of slowing down progression. President Fisher encouraged all community members to attend these meetings and to have an active part in the many new changes to come in the area.
“Come out and be involved, your voice matters. The direction of our community is led by us and we have a voice when we come together,” Fisher said. “It’s not like what you see in the news about Hunting Park being a bad place. This is our home, we care about our home, and we’re taking it back and doing great things.”
Learn more about Hunting Park United and its plans for the future at www.huntingpark.org.