Akoma Unity Center Seeks City Funding for Park Projects
By Dianne Anderson
With $140,000 down and only $50, 000 to go, Akoma Unity Center is getting closer to its new Anne Shirrells Park makeover, complete with basketball, volleyball courts, an inspired mural, and all-around facelift to make any community proud.
Now, the ball is in the city’s court, so to speak.
Jennifer Xicara, Akoma Operations Manager, said the center is seeking support from the city, and they have met with the City Manager and Sixth Ward Councilmember Bessine Richard to help move plans forward.
However, the vote must now go before the City Council for approval.
The $140,000 funding comes by way of the More Attractive Communities (MAC) Foundation. Xicara said Akoma Unity Center director, Kimberly Calvin, connected with the MAC Foundation to present the proposal for the beautification project. They won the MAC Foundation $140,000 donation, but the project will take $190,000 to complete.
As per the MAC Foundation agreement, which was based on a line item proposal, Xicara said the project requires the full amount of funding to proceed.
Akoma is hoping the city can pick up the shortfall.
“Akoma doesn’t own Anne Shirrells Park, it is the city’s,” Xicara said. “We’re looking to get the city invested here. It would be a great win for us all.”
The MAC Foundation grant in its entirety covers several beautification aspects. A mural is planned for the side of the building, a new volleyball court, a new tetherball court and a Zen Garden inside a gated area. The project also covers resurfacing of the basketball court at the park, and basketball hoops.
There will be extra seating areas, along with the revitalization of the garden, irrigation and landscaping.
There is a lot of work ahead, but they also have many volunteers willing to donate in-kind services.
Xicara said the mural is special because it instills community pride, and they want to spotlight past community leaders through the painted portraits, including the park’s namesake, Dr. Anne Shirrells.
She said the MAC Foundation is prepared to give the funding.
“They’re pretty much waiting on us. They’re invested, they understand this area needs a facelift and curb appeal, but they want to make sure we are able to complete the entire project,” she said.
Xicara said that the center had requested funding from the city about a month ago. They hope to receive it by the end of the year to get the project started.
“We need the outside of Akoma to match the inside so these children can be inspired every day coming here, driving past in their neighborhood, that we actually care,” she said.
Sixth Ward Councilmember Bessine Richard said the City Council must vote to approve the funding, and the city manager cannot simply cut a check for the project.
“Yes, I support the $50,000 from the city to provide the remainder of the funds for improvements at Anne Shirrells park,” Richard said. “However, there is a process. From my understanding, it is a grant to improve city property so it has to go through the city’s process.”
Rikke Van Johnson, Akoma Unity Center board member, said the funding would go a long way toward improving the park, which is a well-utilized space.
It not only serves the Sixth Ward, but also serves students from the surrounding communities.
Johnson, a past Sixth Ward Councilman, said despite the city’s $11.2 million budget deficit, there still must be a strong effort to try to support the Westside park.
“That’s true. If you have a project that’s three-fourths paid for, you try to find the money to make it work,” he said. “For something like this, you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”