Some people viewed Santana Village Park in southeast Salem, Ore., as an abandoned space littered with trash, a haven for gangs.
Doug Vande Griend loads a wheelbarrow with bark for a new walking path.
But Doug Vande Griend, a member of Sunnyslope Christian Reformed Church, saw it as a square inch of God’s creation.
Now the Santana Village Park Association, a nonprofit organization formed by Vande Griend, officially owns the park. It was rededicated in August as part of National Night Out.
Vande Griend took on renovation of the park in 2008 when the municipality had no funds to improve the overgrown brush and broken play equipment. “It’s a neighborhood resource that should be ‘owned’ by the neighborhood,” he said. “And if the county wouldn’t allow the neighborhood to ‘own’ it through the county’s ownership, something needed to change.”
Since the association took over, the park has undergone many changes. Grass is mowed, trash picked up, graffiti painted over, and play equipment fixed. A group of neighbors recently spent a Saturday putting in a walking path.
What began as Vande Griend’s personal endeavor has expanded to a project owned by neighbors. “If I do a project now, I could get anywhere from a couple to 20 volunteers—and it isn’t ‘if I do a project’ anymore; it’s ‘if we do a project’,” said Vande Griend.
Since the improvements, crime has decreased in the park. Groups use the park for outdoor events. Children come to play basketball or climb on the play equipment. Little League teams practice in the baseball field. “The park is a busy place today because it is neat, mowed, free of graffiti. The only losers in this one are the gangs,” Vande Griend said.
The park association hopes to resurface the sports courts, build a picnic shelter, get water and electricity on the site, and build a permanent bathroom in the years to come. “I’m doing something that needs doing, which makes me smile with a bit of satisfaction,” said Vande Griend.