MANSFIELD- Last year a survey on Mansfield city parks was conducted and the results were loud and clear: people want better maintenance and better safety at city parks. At Liberty Park, one local congregation is making waves by taking ownership and demonstrating that actions can speak louder than words.
Pastor Dean Jackson and his wife Lisa, of McElroy Road Church of Christ believe their church should play an integral part in their neighborhood.
“Our church has a J.O.B. Ministry where our role is to be a light in the community. The acronym of J.O.B. stands for ‘Jesus outside the building.’ Our mission is to have a sphere of influence that is bigger than just the four walls of the church,” says the pastor, whose congregation meets at 297 North McElroy Road.
Dean recalls when he and his wife first moved back to Mansfield in 2013.
“We came to Liberty Park, and vandalism had ravaged the park. You could find syringes left on the ground. We had heard stories about crime in the park and gunshots in the area. The park had been abandoned and was a dangerous place to be.”
“It’s like the park cried out ‘I need attention,” says Lisa.
The church helped coordinate trash pickups, purchased new picnic tables, installed new walking trail signs, and the youth group repainted garbage cans.
According to Mansfield City Councilman-at-Large Cliff Mears, the City of Mansfield had gone into fiscal emergency in 2008 and the parks department had been eliminated from the budget.
“The city parks had not been maintained by the city for five years and the public perception of the parks were that they were run down and not a safe place to go. Fortunately, in 2013 the PRIDE tax was passed by city voters and the city parks department was started back up. Presently, the thirty city parks are maintained with $825,000 annually coming from this tax.”
This past July 6th, the church coordinated a “Run for Liberty Park Red, White, and Blue 3K Color Run which raised funds to improve the park.
According to Councilman Mears, “The city’s resources are limited. This is great to see faith-based efforts like McElroy Road Church of Christ take ownership of Liberty Park. We need a lot more people like you that adopt a park and help take the lead.”
“When we go to the park to clean, often times people come up to us and ask us what we are doing and why we are cleaning the park,” says Reverend Jackson. “Many times they ask us if we work for the city. We tell them we have a job to do.”
Mears points out that a recent online survey of city parks provided important feedback, garnering 1,030 comments.
“According to the survey results, the people who responded felt safety and maintenance of parks were the top priorities. The Council has heard the voices of citizens loud and clear.”
Two-thirds of those surveyed said city park facilities make Mansfield a more livable community. The top uses of parks according to the survey were the playground and passive recreational use.
According to Reverend Jackson, other churches are inquiring about the congregation’s efforts to adopt the park. In fact, other groups have gotten involved since the church’s initial involvement.
Lisa, who also manages the Friends of Liberty Park-Mansfield Facebook page adds, “When local businesses and the community see consistency and commitment, they are more apt to invest in park improvements; it really is a ripple effect.
“We saw an increase in sponsors in this year’s 3K race. Businesses like Baker’s Collision, Fun Center Pools, Hilltop Quick Lube, Eagle Mark 4, Barrister Title Group, Allen’s Barbershop and Pamer Chiropractor all have been instrumental with the improvement efforts at Liberty Park. It has been a community effort.”
Most recently a family movie night was scheduled on July 25th. Other programs include a July “Christmas at the Park” and “Opera in the Park.” Pastor Jackson also says that his church has softball practice at the park.
“The more presence we have at Liberty Park, the more the darkness cannot be around.”
“Our main purpose is we want to glorify GOD and evangelize people to the LORD. We also want people to know that there are good things going on at Liberty Park,” says Lisa.
According to Mears, “If that agenda is followed thru, you won’t have to deal with vandalism-people will be changed.”