When the new Hamlin Park Advisory Council put together its inaugural Easter Egg Hunt in the park, leader Jody Boutell figured that the event would draw between 100 and 120 children.
They got 600.
“I’m like, ‘This is fantastic!’” she enthused after the gathering, held April 2. “It really was a great start. We were so excited.”
Children and parents lined up outside the park, 3035 N. Hoyne Ave., before the event’s official 10 a.m. start. Once the gates opened, they quickly filled the park’s green space to search for Easter eggs, sorted with help from U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D-5th District). Local businesses chipped in merchandise for a raffle, which helped HPAC raise $3,439 for renovations to the park’s playlot, well over the $1,000 expected.
Boutell said the Easter egg hunt was a great kickoff to the council’s efforts to raise as much as $600,000 to replace a playground area that bears the signs of both neglect and overuse. “Our kids are getting splinters every day,” she said. The council’s members are researching playground designs in cities like Seattle and Palo Alto to see what play space innovations could be applied to make Hamlin Park unique. “There’s no reason we have to have a cookie-cutter park,” she said.
The Advisory Council was formed in part as a response to what people around the park describe as a persistent blight on the neighborhood: constant tagging by gangs on the white wall near the Hamlin Park Pool at the southeast corner of Hoyne and Barry, a sign of a small but tenacious gang presence that has claimed the park and the area around it for decades.
For Boutell, who moved to the neighborhood with her growing family from Wicker Park two years ago, the sight of that wall through her window was enough to mobilize her and other neighbors. “I went to the Park District to find out what we could do about it; could we put up a mural or a mosaic?” she recounted. “And the park supervisor said if we wanted to do anything on park property, we had to form an advisory council. So that’s what we did. And all of a sudden, the momentum for this thing swelled.”
The Advisory Council is capitalizing on that momentum to secure fundraising partnerships with local businesses such as Vino 100 and HomeMade Pizza. They’re also actively working to bring future events to the park, including what would be Hamlin’s first staging of the Chicago Park District’s longtime “Circus in the Parks” program.
After mounting its first successful egg hunt, HPAC is already talking about ways to make next year’s more successful. Boutell said it’s all part of the group’s plan to make over the park within the next two years. “A lot of parks sort of linger. We’re determined not to let that happen,” she said.
The next meeting of the Hamlin Park Advisory Council is Tuesday, April 10, 7:30 p.m., in the club room on the second floor of the Hamlin Park Field House, 3035 N. Hoyne Avenue..