Health Care and Wellness

New Playground for a Healthier Lincoln Knolls

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It was a project years in the making, but in just a few short weeks, children and adults alike will have a new playground to use in the Lincoln Knolls neighborhood on the east side of Youngstown.

“At every block party, I asked what people wanted to see in the community and they said something for the kids. Each year, that was the No. 1 thing they wanted,” said Marguerite Douglas, a member of the Lincoln Knolls Block Watch. “We did a survey and met with adults and kids. I talked with all ages, children and youth, that filled out these surveys. We wanted to know what they wanted on this playground, not just the adults.”

Douglas is also a board member for the Healthy Community Partnership-Mahoning Valley, a collaborative effort aimed at improving health outcomes in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Through the partnership, the community group was able to coordinate funds and expertise for Lincoln Knolls Community Park, situated on a parcel between Lincoln Square Apartments and Danridge’s Burgundi Manor on Maranatha Drive. A groundbreaking for the playground was held Thursday afternoon.

“If you have more opportunities for residents to be physically active and present more opportunities to eat healthier, those two things can address all sorts of health outcomes that we know Mahoning and Trumbull county residents suffer from, such as diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases,” said Sarah Lowry, director of the Healthy Community Partnership.

The playground, slated to open August 15, features the standard play sets and slides, but will also have exercise equipment. Additions such as a splash pad are being discussed, but any definitive plans are still far off, Douglas said.

Equipment for the Lincoln Knolls Community Park is ready for installation. It’s slated to open Aug. 15.

Among the partners in getting the playground ready for local residents were the city of Youngstown, Mahoning County Land Bank, Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. and Midstates Recreation of New Albany, which designed the park. For many residents of the Lincoln Knolls neighborhood, including block watch president Ethel Hughey, the park is a sign of what can happen when a community works together. 

“Everybody has worked with us and we appreciate it. If I could jump up, I would but my legs and my age aren’t letting me do it. But I’m so happy in here,” she said, pointing at her heart. “I thank God for hearing our prayers. We’ve gone back and forward, back and forward to get what we need. I’m so happy; I don’t have words for it.”

The first ideas for the park were discussed about nine years ago, she said. 

While the park is a fun area for children, it has an impact that stretches well beyond its borders, Lowry noted. Twenty-eight percent of adults in Mahoning County are considered physically inactive and 30% are obese. Specifically within Youngstown city limits, those numbers are even higher: 42% are inactive and 41% obese.

“The east side of Youngstown, you look at all sorts of data sets that measure for things like life expectancy and prevalence of chronic diseases, there’s a concentration here,” she said. “Residents have a need for places that are close to them that can address those barriers because of income or transportation or those other barriers to safe physical activity.”

The installation of exercise equipment has become close to standard practice when upgrades are made to city parks, noted Dawn Turnage, director of the city’s parks and recreation department. Most recently, similar pieces were installed at Glenwood Park and Wick Park.

“Physical activity is an important part of a healthy community so we might as well bring that activity to the community themselves,” she said. Having the equipment available to exercise in their backyard, it speaks volumes to them wanting to come back and creating their own activities in this park.”

Beyond that, Lowry continued, there are economic values to such projects. Home values go up and new residents move in.

“It attracts families. If you attract them, it attracts employers and additional investment,” she said. “Yes, it’s just a playground. But it has a ripple effect that’s much broader than this parcel in this neighborhood.”

Lincoln Knolls Community Park isn’t the first long-term project undertaken by the community block watch. Last week, a bus shelter was installed at the McCartney Road Walgreens, a two-year effort spearheaded by Douglas that included working with both the Western Reserve Transit Authority and Walgreens corporate offices.

Charles Griffin, Ethel Hughey, Walgreens manager Matthew Severn and Marguerite Douglas celebrated the installation of a WRTA shelter outside the Lincoln Knolls store last week.

“I was writing letters, contacting the director of transportation Judy Rodriguez; she worked with me. I submitted surveys I collected with data from YSU that studied the number of people using WRTA,” she said. “The process was vigorous and tedious, but we got it.”

That sort of dedication, Douglas said, is emblematic of what the Lincoln Knolls community – and the neighborhood association – is about.

“Our slogan is ‘Neighbors helping neighbors.’ When you live on one street, you know your neighbors on your street,” she said. “We want them to know people on the next street and then the next street. It’s about sharing resources and helping one another.”

Pictured: YSU geography faculty Danielle Lewis, Lincoln Knolls Block Watch’s Bessie Johnson, Youngstown parks and recreation department director Dawn Turnage, Second Ward Councilman T.J. Rodgers, YNDC neighborhood planner Tom Hetrick, Healthy Community Partnership-Mahoning Valley director Sarah Lowry, Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley director Shari Harrell, block watch president Ethel Hughey and block watch members Tina Hughey and June Phillips.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.