A Tree Grows in Mildred Helms Park

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Playing on the theme of the renown book “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” of growth and tenacity, Mildred Helms Park is a jewel in the city. Mildred Helms Park, in Newark’s predominantly African-American and Latino South Ward, lacked playground equipment and suffered from the common urban blight of discarded needles, addicts and street crime. Still, for some 2,400 neighborhood children, including 300 kids from the adjacent elementary school, there was nowhere else to play. In response to the dire need for safe, healthy places for kids to be active, the Trust for Public Land spearheaded an effort to revitalize the 3.3-acre park.

After an extensive design process and fundraising effort, the new Mildred Helms Park broke ground in 2005. Before the revitalization effort, all that remained of the original park was an old shuffleboard court and some concrete tables. New landscaping was installed and additional lighting was placed to address safety concerns. TPL cultivated a sense of community ownership by bringing local parents, pastors, teachers and school children into the design process from the start. Partnerships were also forged with several city agencies, including the police and parks and recreation departments. The Mildred Helms Resurrection Committee, composed of local activists and volunteers, is helping to steer the effort.

The Mildred Helms Park project is a unique example of successful private and public funding. TPL worked with the city to win part of a $1 million National Park Service grant from the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery program, along with a $175,000 grant from New Jersey’s Green Acres program. Several private organizations provided funding, including the Prudential and Victoria Foundations, For All Kids and the Health Care Foundation of New Jersey.

It is because of the park committee’s plan to turn what was blight into a beautiful space the reason Mildred Helms Park was chosen to house a family friendly “Fitness Zone”. The fitness zone will include at least 5 areas of fitness equipment for all ages to use. Our hope is to get more residents more physically active in local parks.

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