Thus far, the parks department has spent $90,000 in donations from the William Penn Foundation and Knight Foundation to support programming throughout the past few months. An additional $548,905 has gone toward operation crews and equipment for maintenance at and around Kensington parks and public spaces.
Even with all this work, the problems at the park persist, says Commissioner Ott Lovell — there are still real challenges around substance use, homelessness, and public safety.
Despite the reality of the daily happenings at the park, it’s progress.
‘More positive things are occurring’
Theresa Grone has lived her entire life in Kensington. She’s a block captain, a caretaker to her elderly parents, a mom to seven kids, and what she calls a “community connector.”
“I was born and raised in this neighborhood,” Grone said. “A lot of the children know me. A lot of the families around here know me. I’m like a resource person, a go-to person.”
Grone has spent a lot of her life volunteering in Kensington — helping out with her kids’ Head Start program, participating on parent councils, contributing to neighborhood clean-ups, and more.
For her and her family, McPherson Square and Library are a pillar of the community and the recent changes have not gone unnoticed.
“It’s progressing. More positive things are occurring … it’s just a slow process,” said Grone. “Could it improve more? Yes, it could. We just got to have the right support behind us,” she said.
Grone works for IMPACT Services to promote community events at the park and library. She wants people in the neighborhood to participate, to come out and give the events a chance, but it’s a hard sell sometimes.
“When I hand out the flyers, they’re like, ‘Oh, is that the park over there? No,’” Grone said. And then she tries to make the pitch to them that things have changed, the park has gotten slightly better, the event will be fun. Sometimes people show up, sometimes they don’t — Grone understands why. But she continues to try.
“I just would love to see more of what we’ve been seeing lately, which is more families, more children,” Grone said.
She wishes for McPherson and Kensington to look like it did when she was growing up, when families looked out for each other, and she could sled down a hill in the wintertime without having to worry about needles. She wants more police presence and people to receive housing and rehabilitation. She wants the library to be updated and upgraded.
“I just hope and pray that it comes and it comes pretty fast. So that way, we can be where we need to be at: in a safe environment,” Grone said.
Until then, Grone will continue to show up in whatever way she can to move her neighborhood forward.
‘We’ve made progress … we want to maintain’
The physical park at McPherson has been changed in small but meaningful ways these past few months and the evolution is happening at the library as well.
Bryan Belknap, the Learning Enrichment Afterschool Program (LEAP) youth advocate at the McPherson branch, has had to adapt programming to what kids in the neighborhood need. It’s complimentary work to what’s happening in the park.
“People’s perceptions of the park are changing,” said Belknap. “I’m now seeing positive mental health things that I think are part of that effort.”
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