A park in Boyle Heights has undergone a much-needed makeover thanks in large part to help received from one of the city’s top sports franchises, the Los Angeles Clippers.
State Street Recreation Center in Boyle Heights gets thousands of visitors each year and on Monday hundreds of park users turned out for the unveiling of upgrades sponsored by the Clippers FIT Campus Program. They were joined by some current and former L.A. Clippers players, Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar and representatives of the California Endowment.
Many of those at the event were also there to spend some time mingling and playing with the professional basketball players, a rare opportunity in the predominantly Latino working class community.
“We really appreciate when the private sector steps up and provides resources for our parks,” Huizar told EGP. “…Because in the last few years the parks have been among the most drastically cut of all the departments” in the city.
Refurbishments at State Street Recreation Center include new equipment for the toddlers’ playground, a new adult fitness area, resurfacing the basketball court and installing new poles and backboards.
“We received about $150 thousand from the L.A. Clippers foundation,” Vicki Israel, Assistant General Manager at the Department of Recreation and Parks told EGP. “We know the California Endowment did a partnership with L.A. Clippers foundation to provide the donation,” she added.
The Clippers FIT Campus Program is one of several programs the Clippers Foundation has collaborated on with the Department of Recreation and Parks locally, according to documents provided.
The program’s goal is to “enhance the quality of life of children, reinforcing the importance of healthy lifestyle through exercise and nutrition.”
Huizar said the FIT Campus Program gives local children interested in playing basketball the opportunity to improve their skills. “The fit program is after school and the Clippers foundation helps provide people, resources and the personnel for the program,” Huizar said.
Clippers players at the center Monday showed the children some of their “tricks” and shared experiences and anecdotes about their lives growing up. “I wish I had a court when I was their age. I hope they take advantage of it,” Clippers player Jamal Crawford told EGP.
Crawford emphasized that a park is necessary in all neighborhoods. “It’s essential, this is where you feel safe, you go on the playground, the basketball court…you can bring your friends and play with them, have some exercise instead of being out in the streets,” he said.
Nearly 100 thousand people live in the eastside neighborhood. For some of the residents, seeing L.A. Clippers team members playing with their children was “surreal.” So was the realization that the professional basketball team had chosen their Boyle Heights’ parks to be one of just three locations they would spend money to upgrade in 2014.
Boyle Heights resident Omar Gonzalez told EGP he was very happy that his son Omar Jr. had the opportunity to play with the Clippers players Monday.
“I think it is great because he looks up to them,” said the father. “He really looked forward to this and he kept telling me the whole week” we had to come, Gonzalez said.
He said he hopes to see more of these types of events because “it is kind of rough to grow up here [in Boyle Heights]” and it’s good for the community.
Huizar told EGP the basketball court is used day and night. A lot of people even play when the lights are off, he said.
“So when the L.A. Clippers stepped up to help the kids, that is a huge step and we need to take our hats off” to acknowledge and to thank those foundations and private sectors groups that make the investment, he said.
Members of the Clippers combination dance team and cheer squad were also on hand to dance and instruct the local youth, adding to the liveliness of the event.
Despite Monday’s officials ribbon cutting ceremony and grand opening, according to Israel some of the upgrades have not yet been completed. “We [still] need to add a shade structure above the playground,” she said.
All of the repairs are expected to be completed by mid-February, Israel said.
Huizar, who lives two blocks from the State Street Recreation Center and says he knows first hand that the park has been “neglected for years” and has experienced many ups and downs, says it is very satisfying to now be celebrating because “this is one of the ups.”
Twitter @jackieguzman