MCKINLEY PARK — A drive-by shooting in which a gunman rolled up on a bike and shot a teenage girl in her arm was the last straw for neighbors near Hoyne Park.
“That park is usually filled with kids for baseball … all of our baseball games were canceled that day because of rain. It was just by chance that our park wasn’t filled by kids when that happened,” said Jessie Calderon, 40, of McKinley Park.
About eight months after the June 2011 shooting, Calderon and neighbors banded together to do something about the park, a grassy 2.7-acre plot of land at 3417 S. Hamilton Ave. that they say fell into disrepair after the death of former park supervisor in 2008.
“There was a lot of riff-raff and some of it was everyday in the summer. Families stopped going to the park because they didn’t want their kids exposed to that and so it was taken over by them,” said Julie Terrazas, a mother of two who lives in McKinley Park.
Together, neighbors created the Hoyne Park Advisory Council, led by a four-person board and open to the public. Calderon serves as president and Terrazas is the secretary.
The group — aided by the Omega Delta baseball league that plays at the park and other community groups — has ripped a page from the playbook of the Chicago Police Department’s CAPS program, essentially creating a "see-something, say something" culture where it didn’t exist before.
Through their efforts, the park is now home to a robust lineup of community-building activities, including 5K races, Halloween costume contests, Easter egg hunts, Zumba classes and park cleanups.
Recently, they've been working with Chicago Park District area manager Mike Hixenbaugh to start a free co-ed teen basketball league running from four days a week. The league starts July 9 and runs through Aug. 16.
On July 12, they’ll host an anti-crime “smokeout” barbecue designed to boost family visibility and keep punks away from the park. A full schedule of upcoming activities is available here.
Their involvement is paying off.
Earlier this year, the council got word that Hoyne Park will get a new playground next year as part of the Chicago Plays! Initiative, and they were recognized for their grassroots park security efforts at a Friends of the Park conference.
Calderon, an omnipresent figure in the neighborhood — he's part of the McKinley Park Civic Association, attends CAPS meeting and serves at vice president of the baseball league where he also umpires — sees a bright future for the park, and for his four boys, three of whom play in the baseball league.
“This is your park, this is your neighborhood. I live in a block away and I’ll fully invested in being there all the time. I need to make sure the park is safe for my kids,” he said.