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Next up: lobbying. Shaffe became the "grip and grinner," she says, pouring on the charm with influential people such as then-4th District Councilman Jim Glover. Roste kept track of which meetings to attend in order to keep the Friends of Gillham Park's agenda in front of as many officials as possible.
In 2005 and 2006, the Friends of Gillham Park organized outings and events in the park, including volunteer trash pickup days. Membership ballooned. "Often, people would join just by seeing us in the park," Shaffe says.
The PIAC committee reviewed the group's proposal at the citywide PIAC meeting on August 24, 2006, and decided that the Friends of Gillham Park had fulfilled its mission. It recommended a $200,000 grant. Glover's approval made it official.
In early 2007, construction on the playground had not yet begun when Shaffe heard a rumor: Incoming Mayor Mark Funkhouser's anticipated belt-tightening threatened the completion of projects, such as the Gillham Park playground, regardless of whether they'd already been approved. So the Friends of Gillham Park concentrated on lobbying Mayor Kay Barnes' appointees before they made way for Funkhouser's board. Shaffe also went back to PIAC. "I had to convince them not only to not freeze the allocation they'd already approved for us, but to actually give us more," she says.
She did it. PIAC allocated another $387,520 to Gillham Park's restoration in 2007, on top of the previous year's $200,000. Crews this year started patching the historic stone stairs that had started to crumble. Asphalt walkways will be replaced with the same bouncy, synthetic substance that coats the jogging trails along Mill Creek Park, at the edge of the Country Club Plaza.
In 2008, Shaffe and her group found out why Loose Park is so much better-looking than other city parks: Yearly donations from the Ward Family Foundation and Russell Stover Candies Inc. pay for litter pickup, fertilizer, weed control, turf aeration, seeding and tree care, and go far beyond what Parks and Recreation can afford to spend on maintenance.
The Ward Family Foundation and Russell Stover included Gillham Park in their 2008 donations for upgraded park care. Members of the Ward Family Foundation's board, who regularly drive the Gillham Park route, had noticed the community's effort behind the original improvements. In accordance with the philanthropy's wishes, the dollar amount of its gift isn't disclosed.
Shaffe's excitement is immeasurable, too. "The park was almost dead," she says. "Now, when my kids and I go down there, people tell us that it reminds them of the way the park used to be."
Ashland Square Park and Chelsea Park
The Marchers: Joyce and Rachel Riley
Rachel Riley was 4 years old when she took her first trip with her brothers and sisters to Ashland Square Park at 23rd Street and Kensington. They could walk to the park from their house, and kids mobbed the junior swimming pool and the more shallow wading pool on hot days. "It was a beautiful park," she says.
Riley is 44 now, and the park's beauty has faded. Bald patches discolor the once-lush turf. Gang graffiti is etched into the surfaces of shelters and picnic tables. Both Ashland Square Park and Chelsea Park, at 27th Street and Chelsea, are on the city's East Side, where, according to 2008's citizen-satisfaction survey, 45 percent of respondents reported that they "seldom or never" visit city parks.
Ashland Square Park's concrete pools turn 60 years old this year, yet they remain indispensable in a neighborhood where air conditioning is a luxury. So Riley and her mother, Joyce, were furious to learn that City Manager Wayne Cauthen's original budget for this fiscal year suggested leaving three city pools dry, including Ashland Square Park's.