More than two years after Jones Park was demolished, the voices and shouts of children can be heard enjoying the playground renamed for Candace Pickens. What started as the dream of one man, David Rodgers, grew to a broad-based movement.
Beginning in September 2021, shortly after the original playground was taken down, David started soliciting private donations to pay for a new park and recruited a cadre of 14 like-minded souls to manage all aspects of the project: volunteers, IT, media, food for the volunteers, child care, tools and artwork. For weeks prior to actual construction, businesses put messages on their marquees, windows, theater screens and billboards supporting park construction and urging people to volunteer.
Over the five construction days, Oct. 4-8, hundreds of community volunteers, some working every day, labored to build the Candace Pickens Memorial Park. Hardware and home improvement companies donated gift cards with which tools were purchased. A crane and the services of an operator were donated to lift the caps of some of the playground features. Restaurants donated food to feed the volunteers two meals a day.
Finally, on Oct. 19, Candace Pickens Memorial Park was opened in what Jenny Pickens, Candace’s aunt, called a “great rising.” One grandmother said the “joy” was palpable. Lowell Grabel, one of two volunteer coordinators, came up with a motto — “The community built a park; the park built community” — which pretty well characterized the spirit that evolved over two years of hard work.
Thank you, community!
— Michael N. Lewis