It was back in the spring that Tyrell Outlaw began taking an interest in the park near his house.
He swept broken glass off the basketball court, and picked trash out of the mulch on the playground. Neighbors pitched in by providing tools or helping bag garbage.
"I did it for my son and the kids in the neighborhood," recalled Outlaw, when I met him at the small, wooded park off Schenectady's Eastern Avenue.
In the months since that first cleanup, Outlaw has continued to clean up the park.
And his vision of what the park can be has grown.
"This park has good potential," the 27-year-old city resident told me. "I'd like to make it better. ... People should want to bring their kids here."
Now Outlaw is applying for $20,000 in funding from The Schenectady Foundation's Thriving Neighborhoods Challenge initiative, which announced its second round of awards Tuesday night (see story below).
Among other things, he told me he'd like to use Thriving Neighborhood Challenge money to put down new blacktop for the basketball court, clean up the overgrown four-square court, install picnic benches, plant flowers and purchase new playground equipment.
These aren't all his ideas — Outlaw told me he surveyed neighborhood children, who told him what they wanted to see in the park.
The first round of Thriving Neighborhood Challenge grants, awarded last winter, invested $250,000 in a dozen projects proposed by neighborhood groups and residents. The goal was to get people who live in Schenectady to pitch their ideas for improving life in the city and help bring them to fruition.
What made the Thriving Neighborhood Challenge project so compelling was its ability to produce tangible results.
The awards have already altered the city landscape, be it through a new splash pad in Woodlawn Park or the colorful rainbow pride art sculpture in Gateway Plaza, among other things.
The second round of awards will hopefully build on the success of the Thriving Neighborhood Challenge, while also attracting a more diverse pool of applicants.
Robert Carreau, the executive director of The Schenectady Foundation, told me that one of the organization's main objectives this time around is to fund a "youth-driven project" — something the organization failed to do in the first round of funding, due to a dearth of proposals.
"We've done more outreach to prompt more applications for youth-driven proposals," Carreau said. "We need to engage youth in where the city is going. We need to engage them in coming up with their own ideas."
With any luck, this round of the Thriving Neighborhood Challenge initiative will yield an exciting youth-driven project.
One possible candidate might be Outlaw's park-improvement proposal, which he's named "Jaylen's Park," after his 6-year-old son.
Located at the intersection of Landon and Woodside terraces, the park could use some love. It has some nice amenities but the broken benches, worn blacktop and garbage that's been dumped there send a troubling message of neglect.
"I've found tires here, old clothes, scooters, bikes, an old ATV," said Outlaw, who works with at-risk youth at Mont Pleasant Middle School through SUNY Schenectady's Liberty Partnerships Program.
The park hasn't been well cared for, but Outlaw believes this can change, and that people who live nearby can be entrusted to maintain the park.
"We all have something to contribute," Outlaw said. "We can get the youth of the neighborhood to help take care of this park. They'll see the park become something to be proud of in their neighborhood."
One of the goals of the Thriving Neighborhoods Challenge initiative was to get residents to imagine a better Schenectady and develop projects that make their dreams a reality.
And it's clearly succeeded, as Outlaw's enthusiasm for reviving the park near his home can attest.
With any luck, the second round of Thriving Neighborhood Challenge grants will bring bigger and better projects, and make the city a more beautiful and interesting place.
The Schenectady Foundation is hosting several informational meetings on the Thriving Neighborhoods Challenge. They are scheduled for Sept. 25 at 6 p.m. at the Mont Pleasant branch of the Schenectady County Public Library; Oct. 2 at 5:30 p.m. at the Bornt branch of the SCPL; and Oct. 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the main branch of the SCPL.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]