Community gathers to build playground at Holly Square

Posted
Mon, 11/06/2017 - 9:39am
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1 week ago
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Volunteers build a new playground at Roots Elementary
Uniting the neighborhood, past and future

Holly Square was a flurry of activity Saturday as roughly 200 volunteers worked to build a playground in one day.

People put together jungle gyms, raked mulch into place and painted stones outside Roots Elementary School in Park Hill. But the group was creating more than just a playground, they were creating a place for the quickly changing community to come together to recognize the past while looking to its future.

In 2008, Holly Square at East 33rd Avenue and Holly Street was the center of an infamous clash between the Crips and Bloods. In retaliation for the murder of a local Crips founder, gang members used Molotov cocktails to burn down the Holly Shopping Center, a popular Bloods hangout.

“Since then, there’s been this really remarkable effort from the community and the city to reclaim Holly,” said Jonathan Hanover, founder and executive director of Roots, which opened in 2015.

Roots, a Boys and Girls Club and the Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being are relatively recent additions in that effort, joining the closeby Pauline Robinson Branch Library and Hope Center for Adults. And in a span of a day, the playground joined the list.

The playground was set up through KaBOOM, a national nonprofit focused on helping communities build playgrounds. It was financed by Travelers Foundation and was the last of six playgrounds the organization sponsored across the country.

But the neighborhood has been going through other shifts, too. Many of community members and parents volunteering commented on the gentrification of the neighborhood.

Sisters Simone Williams and Nicie Smullen both have daughters at Roots. Williams works in the front office while Smullen runs the Girl Scout troop. The two grew up in Park Hill and for them, the changes in the neighborhood have been positive.

“Seeing the really dramatic changes is really inspiring,” Smullen said. “It is so different from what it used to be.”

The sisters described a time when people from the other side of Colorado Boulevard wouldn’t be able to walk around Holly Square. There were colors people couldn’t wear. People couldn’t walk down the street without being asked about their affiliations.

Although Roots has a playground, it’s currently fenced off. The new playground is open to the community, which gives kids another place to play, run around and get to know each other, Smullen said.

It also allows community members to be part of the changing neighborhood, Williams said. They can come back in 15 or 30 years and tell their kids or grandkids that they helped build that playground.

Leslie Williams, the senior librarian at the Pauline Robinson Branch next to the school, said she’s seen more kids and traffic in Holly Square now with the Boys and Girls Club and school. But she’s also seen families move out because they can’t afford to live in the area anymore.

She views the playground as a place for collaboration. New and old neighbors will be able to meet, set up playdates, get to know the story of the area and share the “does and don’ts” of the neighborhood, she said.

“It’s such a great community resource,” she said. “It’s great for our families, makes them feel like we want to do something for them.”

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