GAVA: Physical activity sector

In 2013, the Austin Police Activities League launched a free soccer league for children in Dove Springs. Games were held at the Dove Springs Recreation Center in 78744, and entire families attended games to support the community’s newest physical activity program that was the brainchild of Austin Police Department (APD) Officer Paula Aguilar.

Three hundred children in 78744 participated in this new league. However, 78744 is a large area with thousands of children and limited public transportation routes, and the distance to the Dove Springs Recreation Center limited participation for those traveling by foot with small children from areas up to two miles away. Many families at Houston Elementary, in the northwest quadrant of 78744, found it too far to travel for practices and games.

As community members explored creating an additional space for active play, they uncovered other missing resources that would prove critical to empowering families to increase physical activity. Houston Elementary School’s park, jointly owned by the city and school district, offered some space, but with several obstacles. A large tree was in the middle of what could be a full-sized field, and there was no access to water, restroom facilities, or trash receptacles. And any outdoor activities had to be conducted during the day due to the lack of outdoor lighting on the property.

Collaboration

Enter a park adoption team that grew out of the robust and physical activity-centered parent wellness team at Houston Elementary. In the past year, residents have worked with Austin Parks and Recreations Department (PARD) to begin to address the needs in this park and the neighboring Ponciana Park. With the help of GAVA partner Austin Parks Foundation, they fostered a dialogue with the Austin Independent School District (AISD) to leverage funds needed to realize a bigger dream: a full-sized soccer field on the Houston Elementary campus park.

The dream took over a year to fully realize. Lights were needed for the field to be used beyond daylight hours, and would cost tens of thousands of dollars. Irrigation was quoted as an additional $50,000. A fence would be needed to protect the land while seeds were scattered. And, since neither residents nor the school officials had any desire to cut down trees or the shade they provide (the school had recently acquired newly planted ones), the large tree would have to be carefully moved to allow a full-sized field.

The residents in the team used their local expertise and relationships to reduce some of the costs. A professional plumber who had lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years agreed to donate labor to irrigate the fields, bringing the cost down to $10,000, for just equipment and parts. The more the team could leverage from various public and private sources, the more AISD and PARD were willing to invest in funding. Eventually, month by month, the park acquired the needed assets: six large lights, four trash cans, and an irrigated field. Their next task was to address the need for access to drinking water.

Per AISD policy, residents were informed that school parks would not receive water fountains because they were vulnerable to vandalism, so a hose bib was installed on the property for access to water. But residents worried that it would be difficult for children to drink from it, and GAVA staff partners agreed that it was difficult to tell by looking at it that it was even a source of potable water. The park adoption team was not deterred and continued to advocate for a water fountain on the property to be used by children at play. Resident leaders had formed an alliance with PARD, who had now heard from multiple GAVA schools in both zip codes that access to water outside was a much needed asset, and PARD pledged to AISD that they would pay for the fountains as well as their installation and maintenance, if AISD assumed responsibility for the cost of the water. AISD agreed, and a real water fountain was installed.

Advocacy

Additional government and school policies were born from the efforts to provide adequate facilities for a youth soccer league. The required Memorandum of Understanding between PARD and AISD to accommodate for the water fountains on school property provided guidelines for future cooperation on land jointly owned by the two entities. Park maintenance, playscape installation and upkeep and water fountains were included in this agreement. The open communication fostered by this dialogue allows resident teams to continue to work collaboratively to remove barriers to physical activities for children and families in 78744, 78745 and beyond.

Results

GAVA evaluation data offers a glimpse into the potential long-term impact of the park adoption team’s efforts. Neighborhood perception of barriers to physical activity have gone down in 78744. In areas near Houston and Langford Elementary Schools, the percentage of residents reporting barriers (in terms of lack of quality programming, safety issues, lack of affordable programming, distance to physical activity facilities) reduced by nearly 30 percent in the past year (see map). Stakeholder interviews indicate that the community is in the “Preparation Stage” of community readiness[1], suggesting there is a general attitude of concern and willingness to do something about the problem in the community. Residents acknowledge that community leaders are actively supportive of continuing or improving current efforts or developing new efforts. Some resources have been identified and community members or leaders are actively working to secure these resources.

Finally, our door to door surveys show an increased use of physical activity access points in Dove Springs over the three year period.

[1] Based on the Community Readiness Handbook for Successful Change