Friendship Park lived up to its name March 22, 2019, as the residents, staff and board of Hampton Gate and Hampton Way apartments in Fresno, California, welcomed 200 guests for the ribbon cutting on their newly-completed park.
The Hampton apartment complex, which houses 32 people, is operated by Central California Residential Services (CCMRS), founded in 1986 by a coalition of local Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite churches and families with a mission of offering a supportive environment for adults living with developmental disabilities.
Mennonite Brethren continue to be actively involved in the operations of CCMRS, participating as staff, board members, volunteers and residents.
On this sunny March afternoon, a dozen vans from Special Day Programs in and around Fresno lined the Hampton Way street carrying friends and co-workers of the Hampton residents. The riders exited these vans, some on foot and others with the assistance of walkers or wheelchairs, and wound their way through the Hampton complex patio to a small gate at the back.
Like a secret garden, the gate opened up to a 9,000 square foot park featuring a lush green picnic area surrounded by a wheelchair-accessible sidewalk, a small basketball court with bleachers and, the residents’ pride and joy, a bocce ball court.
Aaron McLain is one of several Hampton Gate residents who plays bocce ball in the Special Olympics program. McLain, together with other members of the Charis Community Aktion Club and its sponsoring Kiwanis Club, raised the $2,000 needed to develop the bocce ball court. With help from youth and adult volunteers from Bethany MB Church, the two clubs donated many hours of labor digging the long, deep pit to be filled with gravel to create the court.
The park is situated on a former irrigation canal that used to run behind the apartment complex. More than 20 years ago the City of Fresno had abandoned and filled the canal bed and deeded the property to CCMRS. CCMRS had planted the area with grass and some shrubs, but with the recent California drought, the area had deteriorated.
“The grass was bumpy and had gophers. It was not accessible for people with mobility issues,” explains Terri Adishian, the chair of the park project. “So, we ripped out all the grass. It was hard core labor for over 50 volunteers and residents.”
With more than $17,000 in donations (including a $5,000 seed grant from Everence Foundation), the volunteers transformed Friendship Park with an irrigation system, new grass, drought-tolerant plantings and paved walkways that can accommodate all of the residents’ friends, no matter what their disability.
“This is a space to be with our friends and to make new friends,” Adishian says.
Local dignitaries from the city, county and state government took part in the ribbon cutting event.
“This is the good stuff of my job,” said city councilman Paul Caprioglia, looking across the diverse audience, “being part of something like this that improves the lives of the people of our community.”