Pastor Ted Ward wanted a day to show the better side of Jerry Burrell Park in the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood.
The spiritual leader of Koinonia Christian Ministries wanted to show how the park’s reputation for crime could be replaced by peace and unity, even for a few moments. And with a little help from Winning Our World International, he achieved his goal.
Hundreds of Hamilton Hill residents peacefully gathered in the park to celebrate the city’s first WOW JAM Tuesday afternoon. There was booming hip-hop music as people danced and cheered in the park in the heart of the Hill neighborhood.
Ward smiled as he stared across the crowd in front of a makeshift stage mounted on the back of a semi trailer. All around, he said, families were finally enjoying Jerry Burrell the way it was meant to be enjoyed.
“There is unity in the community,” he said.
At the center of the festivities was Stephen Tavani, a former music producer who helped found the WOW JAM in Los Angeles two decades ago. With microphone in hand, Tavani directed a procession of giveaways, where revelers received items from mountain bikes to home tool kits.
Schenectady and Albany were among more than a dozen stops Tavani and his wife — singer Linda Tavani of the popular 1970s band Peaches and Herb — have made around the nation this year. In both cases, he said the event was staged in downtrodden areas of the city, where people are desperately searching for something to believe in.
“We just want to give people hope and bless them,” he said.
Tavani’s mission was joined by Ward and volunteers from Christian ministries throughout Schenectady. They manned tents set up around the park and offered free food and services.
“There are some things that are free in life,” Ward said
Sabrina Berghela, a volunteer from Abounding Grace Christian Church, was dispensing career advice and demonstrating areas where unemployed people could search for jobs. She also provided fliers from three Capital Region employers searching for entry-level workers.
“They went so fast I didn’t even have enough to give out,” she said.
Nearby, Juan Hidalgo was among a pair of local barbers giving out free haircuts to a long line of shaggy residents. The stylist in his last week of training at the Jordan Lynn School in Schenectady said he and another student at the school didn’t mind volunteering some time to help out the community.
“We said all right, we’ll go,” he said.
Koinonia Pastor Jesus Ramasour said the event helped bring the mission of the church to the people who most need it. He was thrilled to see the level of participation by faith-based groups and how far they were able to extend their message.
“Churches shouldn’t be about being behind walls,” he said. “Churches should be about being out here in the community.”
The one-day party in the park was in stark contrast to the reputation it has developed in recent years as a haven for criminal activity including murder. Last year, 21-year-old Xavier McDaniel Jr. was shot and killed as he pleaded for his life in broad daylight there.
Earlier this month, Hamilton Hill residents were critical of the Schenectady City Council for its refusal to grant a round-the-clock police patrol for the park. Ward said events like WOW show the community can come together to make the park a better place.
“They say there are drugs and bad things that happen in the park,” he said. “We want to show that people can come together.”
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Categories: Schenectady County