Local elected officials say they're largely on board with pleas from the public to enhance recreational opportunities for children along the Route 1 corridor.
Hundreds of young athletes, parents and members of the faith community from the Route 1 corridor gathered Monday night at a forum organized by Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement, or VOICE. Speakers pushed for the creation of turf fields at local high schools, a multipurpose surface area at the Audubon mobile home park and a new, low-fee recreation center on the corridor.
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland told the overflow crowd at Bethlehem Baptist Church that he would help push for new and improved recreational facilities as part of the Fairfax County's $75 million park bond. “I was asked that earlier today and said yes, yes, yes, yes,” he said as the crowd cheered. “And the answer is still yes."
Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay told the audience he would push to use park funding for turf fields at Mount Vernon and West Potomac High Schools, the Audubon facility and a new recreation center, as well as searching for public-private partnerships to help make that happen.
Recreational Facilities In Need of Repair, Too Far Apart
Speaker Melinda Caldwell, a counselor at Carl Sandburg Middle School, said too many children have idle time on their hands and face barriers that prevent them from participating in extracurricular activities. “School and athletic fields are inaccessible to those who need them the most, which are working families and people without transportation,” Caldwell said.
Rev. Tuck Bowerfind of St. Luke's Episcopal Church told the crowd that too often, residents of the Route 1 corridor are viewed as marginalized community members, even victims.
“Route 1 is a community full of talented leaders,” he said. “It doesn't matter how much money they make. They are talented leaders who care deeply about the future of their children. … There are no victims here tonight. There are players.”
Attendees also heard student and parent testimonies urging new recreational facilities. One woman, who gave her name as Alma, said she has four children at Hybla Valley Elementary School and lives in the Audubon mobile home park, which is home to 700 homes and approximately 1,500 children.
“There is no place for children to play, kick the ball or ride a bike,” she said. “The children often end up playing in the street. … When kids have safe activities, it is less likely they will go down the wrong path.”
Raveen Sianda, an 8th-grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School, said her family has only one car for five people. She's involved in multiple after-school activities, sometimes staying until 6 p.m., and it's often tough to find a ride home. She asked local officials to create a bus route to serve children who participate in after-school activities.
Ashley Hoffman, a teacher and dance team coach at West Potomac, explained how one of her dance team members has no transportation. She and other dance team parents have taken her home from practices and to performances.
“I'm a coach, and I drive a minivan, but I can only fit five kids, and there are hundreds,” Hoffman said.
John Caldwell, a VOICE activist and local parent, urged local officials to take action. “Fairfax County is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation … and we expect this to include our community, as well,” he said.
Specifically, John Caldwell said, VOICE members would like to see turf fields at local high schools, improvements at local parks at Bucknell Elementary School, a low-cost/free recreation center on the west side of the Route 1 corridor, adequate transportation after school between the schools and neighborhoods where kids live and improved facilities at Carl Sandburg Middle School.
VOICE maintains that community leaders should invest in youth recreation facilities and fix gaps in transportation and outreach that prevent youths from participating in high-quality after-school activities, as well as increasing parental involvement. Hyland encouraged the community to continue to advocate for local needs.
“Let your voices be heard,” he said. “And I think they are being heard this evening.”