How a group of residents continues to make Sarvis Park a “beacon of hope”

The neighborhood surrounding Flint’s Sarvis Park has always taken great pride in what the park represents to the community: hope.


“This park gave a lot of individuals hope,” said Ladel Lewis, who grew up in Sarvis Park and moved back last summer. “It has given a lot of people a place to go regardless of what’s going on at home. The park is a safe place and it’s all some people have. We want to continue to give people a safe place to go.”


Lewis began working with Jermaine Turner and Aaron Turner, residents who have a nonprofit called Reviving Our City Communities. Underneath the umbrella of that organization, they worked with Lewis to create the Sarvis Park Neighborhood Association, defining the neighborhood boundaries in the Clio Road/Pasadena/Stewart Avenue area surrounding the park.


Lewis lost her father in January, and wanting to help the neighborhood he lived in was a big motivating factor to help start the organization.


“The catalyst that made me get on board was that my father left me a very nice house, but the home value was next to nothing,” Lewis said. “I want us to change that. This was a thriving community once before, so I want to help bring that back.”


The group has organized a wide range of outdoor events and activities, following social distancing and health/safety protocols. Events have included weekend basketball tournaments for kids, food trucks, neighborhood cleanups, and more. An event in partnership with the Michigan State Police brought several troopers to the park for a cookout, basketball, and a chance to meet neighborhood residents and kids and build better relationships between the police and the community.


“We had state troopers lining the streets because they wanted to get engaged with the park and the residents,” Lewis said. “The kids were excited -- they all came out to the park to see what was going on.”


The neighborhood association has simply helped pull together residents and groups who have been doing positive work in the area for years, including cleanups, park adoption, getting new playground equipment, hosting events, and more.


“The Sarvis Park Neighborhood Association is new, but the people behind it have been doing the work for a very long time,” Lewis said. “It is just a group of people who grew up in the neighborhood and want to focus on the youth in the second ward.”


Sarvis Park is historically significant for another reason -- the basketball court there has hosted some of the city’s greatest players. Former Michigan State star and NBA player Charlie Bell grew up in the neighborhood and is among Flint’s greats to have played there.


“One of the best parts of living here is the basketball,” Jermaine Turner said. “We have a basketball community, one of the Flintstones (Bell) grew up here. There’s a rich history of great basketball players who come through our park. That’s why we do tournaments, to keep that tradition going and keep the youth active. We love to be able to be at the park and guide kids through or randomly stop and and tell them stories about basketball history here.”


Neighborhood cleanups have also been a way to create engagement among residents. The neighborhood association has worked with Keep Genesee County Beautiful for cleanup supplies, but the organization has also provided totes that include outdoor toys and games for kids, so they can have things to get them outside and get exercise.


The association is planning a Community Day from 4-7 p.m. on September 25. The event will include food, games, and giveaways, and will once again include partner with law enforcement -- Michigan State Police, City of Flint Police, and the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department will all participate. The consistent events have had a positive effect on bringing residents and other community members together.


“It’s getting the older people and the younger people in the community engaged in conversations, its getting the community closer to the police, and it’s making the neighborhood stronger,” Jermaine Turner said. “The children love all of the vents because the park is a beacon of hope and a place to be safe and have fun.”


“A lot of people have been in the neighborhood for decades, and they’re seeing new life taking place in the neighborhood,” Lewis said. “It’s giving them a second wind. Our generation is picking up the ball. It gives residents who have lived here a long time a renewed sense of community.”

The neighborhood association is always looking for new partners to help. They can be contacted through their Facebook page or at [email protected].

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.

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