A group of 16 volunteers met every month for two and a half years, crafting a new vision for John Chavis Memorial Park.
They had big hopes for the mostly forgotten space in Southeast Raleigh. They wanted the city to upgrade the park into a lively gathering spot for families and the community.
Finally, those volunteers are getting their wish. Last fall, Raleigh voters approved $92 million in parks spending. Chavis park will receive $12.5 million for a major facelift.
This month, the volunteers, called the John Chavis Memorial Park Community Conversation Public Leadership Group, were recognized for their efforts. The group received a Fred Fletcher Outstanding Volunteer award, which recognizes the hard work of volunteers throughout the city.
“We just feel really good about the recognition,” said Lonnette Williams, a member of the leadership group. “It takes a lot of time and effort to work with the city to get things done to benefit the entire city.”
Before the group was formed, there was little money and no specific plan for the park.
Then Raleigh helped form the leadership group in 2012. The volunteers got to work on a master plan that was later approved by the City Council.
It calls for an improved community center and aquatic center, more multi-use fields, more event space and a stronger focus on honoring the history of the park.
“So much of the original park had been destroyed or removed,” Williams said. “We were trying to save the park.”
Cecilia Zuvic, who lives near the park, got involved with the group in hopes of drawing more people to the park she so enjoyed.
She said she often posted on Facebook when she went running in the park. She wanted her friends to see it was a useful space in the city.
“I thought it was crazy that no one talked about the park,” Zuvic said.
She made signs and posters to drum up public support for the plan before it went to City Council and connected with groups who needed park space, including skateboarders.
Others contributed to a Pinterest page for the community to share a vision of Chavis park. Some went on special environmental walks to study ways to repair and conserve environmental features, according to the the nomination letter for the group’s award.
Williams said she made sure to involve residents in the South Park and east Raleigh neighborhoods, which surround the park.
Now, the volunteers are sitting back, waiting for work to begin on the park they have poured their hearts into. The goal is to use the $12.5 million to transform Chavis park into something like Pullen Park, a major destination in the city.
“It’s not enough, but it’s a start,” Williams said of the money.