Ladel Lewis has seen it all. Born and raised in Flint’s Sarvis Park neighborhood, she has seen the community at its best and returning to the area in 2019 to care for her ailing father, found it most troubling. “The community was in a tough place. There were bullets in the streets and many residents felt like they were living in prison,” she explained. “Many of them were on a fixed income, invested in their homes, and didn’t want to leave. There were a lot of problems. They deserved better. I said to myself, ‘no more’.”
Lewis got to work and with help from neighborhood residents, created the Sarvis Park Neighborhood Association (SPNA) to “help build pride and reduce blight in the community.” The SPNA is built around making Sarvis Park a community hub and public center but is working toward doing much more. Lewis acts as president. “We are bigger than just doing projects in the park,” she says. “We want to improve the quality of life for families around it by establishing pride and feelings of security.”
Lewis and residents started by cleaning up blight in the park and neighborhood at the now annual Sarvis Park Neighborhood Cleanup Day, this year scheduled for April 23. “It’s a whole vibe,” says Lewis. The event gathers the whole community for a morning of hard work ending in a shared lunch. “We have become a park adopter and work together with Keep Genesee County Beautiful,” she adds. “The City of Flint has very little money to devote to parks, so we want to do our best to help. Blight removal not only raises property values, it raises spirits, as well.”
The SPNA has plans for enhancements to the park including playground accessibility, new picnic tables and bleachers, and thanks to a grant from the Disney Corporation, a new soccer field – an up-and-coming sport for area kids. The grant will also benefit nearby Iroquois Park by helping to increase handicapped accessibility and renovate the current baseball diamond. “We are working with AutoZone for the installation of a new baseball diamond at Sarvis Park,” adds Lewis. “One goal is to ensure that we use all the 12-plus acres in a reasonable way. We have a beautiful nature area that will stay the same and we are even making plans to enhance that by planting trees.” Lewis is applying for grants to build a complete sidewalk around the park so area residents have a place for exercise. A hoop-house and garden have also been built and cultivated and is open to area residents for access to fresh vegetables. “We bring in guests to read to neighborhood kids for our ‘Reading in the Garden’ program,” adds Lewis. “The kids love it and the books usually involve the subjects of gardening and nutrition.”
In addition to park cleanup and enhancements, the SPNA has worked to increase neighborhood security by obtaining and installing solar yard lamps, Ring doorbells and porch lights at select residences. “To date, we have installed 25 solar yard lamps, 11 Ring doorbells, and three porch lights,” Lewis updates. “We will also be posting ‘Community Watch’ signs that were recently purchased.”
The SPNA is collaborating with state and local police in an effort to forge a positive relationship between them and the community. The departments were extremely receptive and have designated their own State Police Community Day when the officers mingle with, serve food and cater to the residents. The police have expanded to other area neighborhoods to build positive relationships. “We have a feeling of togetherness here because of the improved law enforcement relationship,” Lewis explains. “People know that our area is different now – the freedom to cause trouble isn’t there so much anymore. People tell me that they feel safer now.” To increase civic engagement, the SPNA also conducts monthly “Community Conversations’’ at the nearby police mini-station (corner of Bishop & MLK Blvd.) every third Tuesday from 9-11am, focusing on a variety of topics such as how to spot elder abuse.
Because of the efforts of the SPNA and its community, Sarvis Park is quickly becoming a go-to place for local families and city celebrations. “The park is being used for city-wide events now,” says Lewis. To further make Sarvis a “destination” park, the SPNA has eyes on obtaining a nearby vacant lot for possible use as a food truck lot. This summer, Lewis and the SPNA plan to host a variety of fun events and programs in and around the park including their annual cleanup day, the Northside Stride 3K Fun Run at Max Brandon Park, the much-anticipated Caribbean Beats & Eats Celebration this summer, and a September Community Day celebration. Starting again this summer are the Art in the Park, Music in the Parks (starting August 2) and Fitness in the Park programs. “Nothing like seeing a bunch of people doing yoga outside in the park on a sunny day,” Lewis laughs.
In addition to her role as SPNA President, Ladel Lewis also represents the 2nd Ward on the Flint City Council but the additional duties haven’t slowed her down, even a little. She and her community have big summer plans for resident home renovations and more. They are recreating a lost sense of neighborhood that has abandoned much of the city’s streets. The SPNA serves as a model for community healing and Sarvis Park area residents are smiling again. The pride is coming back big time and SPNA is leading the way. “We just want to enjoy our neighborhood.”
Upcoming SPNA Events
- April 23 – Clean-Up Day
- June 18 – North Side Stride 3K Fun Run
- June 19 – Youth Art Showcase
- August 3 – National Night Out Ice Cream Social
- August (TBD) – Caribbean Beats & Eats Celebration
- September 10 – SPNA Community Day
For news updates and more information, visit the Sarvis Park Neighborhood Association Facebook page or email Llewis@cityofflint.com.
Photos provided by Sarvis Park Neighborhood Association