Formed in 1997, the Carroll Park Neighbors has many roles in the maintenance and programming of the park.
“We keep the flower beds cleaned, we trim the hedges, sweeping, we keep the walkways clean,” said Betty Chance, Carroll Park Neighbors volunteer.
The Carroll Park Neighbors do much more then just clean. The group influences the West Philadelphia community that once was filled with closed doors.
In the 1920s Carroll Park was privately owned by Eugene Carroll. Its wrought-iron fences contained the park’s greens and the community used it as meeting place.
“This was the go to place for young people on Sundays,” Doris Gwaltney said. “Young people would come to Carroll Park, sit on the benches and socialize. This was the place to come and court one another.”
It was here that Gwaltney’s parents would go to court.
These personal connections to the park are what kept Gwaltney so tied to it and heavily influenced her decision to take on the responsibility of being the president of the Carroll Park Neighbors.
Although Carroll Park is now a place of community and hope, it has not always been a nice place. The days when Carroll Park was owned by Eugene Carroll were not good for everyone.
Racial inequality has always been an issue in the neighborhood of Carroll Park. From the 1970 census to the 1980 census the African-American population went from 4.7 percent to 97.3 percent. For Timothy Kemp, lifelong resident of Carroll Park, being the minority in the 1940s at Carroll Park was not easy.
“I’ve been here since 1939,” Kemp said. “At that time, as a black man, I couldn’t walk through this park. They would run me like an animal or something. When I was a youngster, you name it, it happened”
For 11 years following the initial construction of the playground, the Carroll Park Neighbors continued the revitalization of the park until it was finished in 2010 with the final addition of its much needed tool shed. “The last piece of our master plan was our tool shed, which we never thought we would get,” Gwaltney said. “I have pictures of the tool shed being installed, and every time I look at them it makes me tear up.”
Although the park had always been a pertinent part of the community, it took the dedication and hard work of its neighbors, the Carroll Park Neighbors, to take ownership of the community’s center.
“The neighbors around here are believers,” Gwaltney said.
Since the completion of the park renovation, the Carroll Park Neighbors mission has shifted from restoring the park to maintaining it and providing free programs for the neighborhood. Throughout the year events like garden club, a summer concert series and a free faith-based summer camp are offered to the community.
“We have a free summer camp which starts in a couple weeks,” Gwaltney said. Carroll Parks free summer camp run by a Christian ministry organization, MFuge, has been available for the area’s children since 1999.
The side effects of the park improvements seem to all be positive. Crime, although still present, is much less obvious, property values rose significantly, and children finally have a place they can go.
“The community wanted a playground for the children,” Gwaltney said. “A park is supposed to be the center of community activity.”
The Carroll Park Neighbors has received over $630,000 in grants for the park’s renovations; however its maintenance still requires obtaining additional funding. New additions like street lamps are on Gwaltney’s wish list.
“The challenge is to maintain it for the next generation because it does not make economic sense to let parks deteriorate.”
Like Gwaltney and Kemp, Carroll Park has been a place for many of the neighborhood’s children to grow up. Handing down the reins of the Carroll Park Neighbors should not be hard because there are so many who have deep ties to West Philadelphia.