“I’m going out to play!” yells five year old Luis as he stands by the gate waving to his grandmother in Familia Corazones Verdes Park in downtown Santa Ana. He is smiling from ear to ear as he skips off with the rest of the children heading straight for the playground.
“My grandkids love this park, they practically beg for me to bring them here every day. We have our own family garden set up here, so that keeps them busy along with playing with their friends,” explains grandmother Graciela Medina while she sits with a few other women as they begin to plan out the events that will be happening for the week.
Medina enjoys spending time at Familia Corazones Verdes Park because of its security and the friendships she has made there. The sign-in sheets, head counts, and cameras keep a close eye on who goes in and out of the park, making it a safe environment. The park has a free membership and once you join, families can come any time as long as they sign in and sign out.
Plus, the park is home to a parent led crafting organization called MUCA, which translates into United Hands Making Art, giving the parents a great way to bond with each other and do something productive along the way.
“We make jewelry and other types of crafts to sell and help out the park and simultaneously we all bond together and are there one another,” Medina said.
But mothers and grandmothers like Medina are concerned because budget shortfalls have put future access to the park at risk.
The park, unlike many other city playgrounds, is privately owned by the community advocacy group Latino Health Access (LHA). LHA and the families that use the facilities maintain the property, a half an acre plot with a play structure, a community garden and a 300-square-foot community center.
Since opening its doors on June 6th, 2013, the park has provided its services to hundreds of people per week. The overflowing bookshelves are filled with donated books for every grade level and outside by the playground, families have gardens growing with everything from tomatoes to eggplants.
The families that use the park are in charge of maintaining the grounds and keeping the insides, including bathrooms, the industrial kitchen and the community center, clean.
Yet even with all the volunteer work, LHA is having a hard time keeping up with increasingly high utility bills and other ongoing costs While hours have not been reduced yet, the park may have to be closed a day or two per week and see cuts in daily activities and programs for the children, like literacy groups and music class.
The park was the result of eight years of planning that started after a group of mothers -- worried about how living in a park-poor neighborhood would affect their children’s' health -- came to LHA for help. The park became a reality thanks to a donation from the St. Joseph Health System and fundraising by the community, and a 2008 grant from the California State Parks and Recreation department.
Esther Trinidad, mother and supporter of this park, sits in the community center making baskets as she emphasizes the importance of this park, “As an immigrants, I feel like this park belongs to us. We fought for this park and it’s something we have to take care of, the way it takes care of our children.”
Anyone who wants to make a donation to the park can click on this indiegogo page. So far they've raised over $4,000 but still have a long way to go.
Vanessa Sandoval is a Santa Ana resident and student at UC Irvine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org