A local church is investing in outdoor spaces at the Theron B. Watkins Homes, a Housing Authority of Kansas City complex, in hopes of providing safe places for children and families.
Members of Central Baptist Church at 550 Garfield Ave. and a partner congregation from First Baptist Church in Gower, Mo., spent last week sprucing up the playground equipment, adding mulch, benches, picnic tables, charcoal grills, a soccer field and more.
Carson Myers, a resident of Indian Mound for about four years, is the outreach coordinator for Central Baptist. He and other members began working on the upgrades Thursday morning, and continued through Saturday. They celebrated the improvements to the park with a community barbecue on Saturday.
“We just spend a lot of time caring for the people here,” Myers said. “We just go around and ask, ‘What do you like about living in the neighborhood and what do you wish was better?’ I hear lots of things people like, but there’s things that consistently, that people – especially in this area – have said they wish there was more to do for the kids and wish there were better facilities.”
The church members started brainstorming what they could do to serve the community and care for the people who live there.
“This is something that got pointed to over and over again, the basketball court area and the playground, and we just started dreaming,” Myers said.
He began coordinating volunteers, supplies and donations. The two congregations funded the project, along with Christian fundraising organization Send Relief, which is part of the North American Mission Board.
There is a playground in front of Clymer Community Center, surrounded by a chain link fence. The volunteers added two benches inside the fence and spread new mulch. Outside the fence they added two charcoal grills and two picnic tables.
“Just a good way to build community, to come out and have a place to do cookouts together,” Myers said. “They didn’t have anything like that previously on site.”
Two basketball goals were removed years ago, but the asphalt pad remains. There, a group of about 20 volunteers and a handful of youth from the neighborhood painted children’s games like hopscotch and foursquare on Saturday. They also had soccer goals donated, which they installed and added new nets.
While they began the physical work just last week, the paperwork for the project started in January. Myers has enjoyed coordinating with the Housing Authority staff on site.
“It’s just one extra thing on the plate for them, but they’ve made a lot of time and effort to coordinate with us,” Myers said.
Theron B. Watkins served on the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners from 1941 to 1948. Named in his honor when it was completed in 1954, the T. B. Watkins Housing Complex still stands as a testament to his service and dedication.
Watkins was the stepfather of Bruce R. Watkins, who became the first African American elected to the City Council in 1966. Watkins served two terms before being elected twice as Jackson County circuit clerk and running for mayor of Kansas City in 1979. The elder Watkins motivated countless individuals to commit their time and funds to community projects, including the city clean-up campaign of 1940, fundraising for construction of The Paseo branch of the YMCA, and organizing the Gateway Athletic Association, a youth sports organization.
The southern portion of T.B. Watkins at 13th and Vine St. has 210 units of affordable housing, ranging from one to five bedrooms. There are an additional 75 three- and four-bedroom townhome units to the north. The residents have access to many services provided by community partners such as daycare services and a Head Start program, tutoring programs and the Pythons Drill Team, the LINC after school program and a computer lab.
“I think, practically, it’s just something positive for [the kids] to spend their time on,” Myers said. “Trouble isn’t hard to find, boredom is nobody’s friend. Just providing stuff for kids to be outside, spending their time well, being able to enjoy being kids.”