At the July 13 meeting of the Gross Park Advisory Council (the park is located at 2708 W. Lawrence Ave), members had September on their mind. They’re already knee-deep in planning the Council’s annual showcase event, Party in the Park, scheduled for September 11, from 1 to 7 p.m.
This is the Council’s seventh year putting on what amounts to a neighborhood block party. The first was held to celebrate construction of a new playground, completed the following year, and proved such a huge hit that organizers decided to do it again. And again.
“You meet the kids in the neighborhood, and it’s not ‘Are you going to do it?’ but ‘When?’,” says Maura Sadovi, president of the Advisory Council.
Last year’s festivities included face painting, yoga demonstrations, a concert, balloon tying, and a free throw contest. This year’s gathering promises more of the same, with Sunnyside Up, a local bluegrass trio, already on board as the musical entertainment. though with budget cuts at City Hall and Springfield, the giant inflatables are still iffy. The Council offsets costs by selling raffle tickets and T-shirts, with any proceeds going toward park improvements.
Besides planning the bash, the Council is also busy promoting the July 21 Movie in the Park: Transformers 2.
“We were hoping for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” said council member Ann Kuta, “but this might bring more teens.”
The Council’s major focus is to encourage use of the park through increased programming, as well as maintaining it as a safe, welcoming green haven for neighborhood residents.
“Nine years ago, the park was surrounded by a chain-link fence,” said Sadovi. It was a place where the Latin Kings maintained a pervasive presence. But thanks to the vigilance of the Council, along with neighbors and Park District staffers such as supervisor Mark Naumiec, Gross Park has undergone a remarkable transformation.
The chain-link fence has been replaced by a friendlier wrought-iron version, which along with upgrades to the playground and landscaping has transformed the space. Gang members have gotten the message that they’re not wanted, thanks to residents’ and Naumiec’s frequent calls to police.
“It’s the neighbors,”Naumiec said. “It’s great that they care.”
Where residents used to cross into Ravenswood Manor to take advantage of its playgrounds, they’re now sticking closer to home. Kelly Luby, a new recruit to the Council, adds that the park was a “huge selling point” when she and her husband bought a home in the area five years ago.
Now the Council’s goal is to continue that positive momentum. For the second year, Gross Park is hosting a children’s summer day camp for kids ages three to five, running three days a week (9 a.m. – noon) through August 6.
“It’s been an adventure for myself,” Naumiec says. “It seems like a full day. It feels like eight hours.”
They’d also like to add a summer basketball camp in the near future to give teens something constructive to do during the day. Though with funding increasingly tight, the Council would settle for having the park’s drinking fountain repaired.
Economic constraints hardly keep Sadovi from thinking big. “Gross Park has a long history,” she said. “They used to ice it over in the winter and have skating, so we kind of dream about that.”
Another dream of hers is already within reach: “I just want to make this feel like the backyard for the neighborhood.”
For more information about the Gross Park Advisory Council, to volunteer for Party in the Park or to donate raffle prizes, contact Ann Kuta.