A New Playground for Potomac Gardens

Volunteers from Potomac Gardens, DCHA, Little Lights Urban Ministries, Make Kids Smile, Inc. and Foulger-Pratt working on the new playground. The groups also painted walls, planted trees, and updated the basketball court. Photo Credit: DCHA

When children from Potomac Gardens, the public housing complex located at 1225 G Street SE, returned home from school on May 8, they were surprised to see some workers putting the finishing touches on a new playground. At the same time, other volunteers installed new headboards for the basketball court and planted trees throughout the complex. While the children would have to wait until the end of the weekend to play, they were happy to share what they liked about the new playground, from the slides, monkey bars, and the orange and blue color scheme. One child said it best: “I like everything!” 

Resident-Driven

The process began in 2014, when a group of Potomac Gardens residents requested funds for a new playground. “At one point, there was no playground there, period,” said Aquarius Vann-Ghasri, long-time resident and president of the Potomac Gardens Family Residents Council. “So we went through the process of getting the first playground.” However, it became a health and safety hazard due to age and a lack of maintenance. “The old playground was not only outdated, health and safety-wise, but it had been vandalized,” said Micheal Coleman, regional property manager for CT Management, who maintains the housing project.

After community members asked Vann-Ghasri to present the matter to the Executive Board, she said that they rejected it. “I went back to the parents and let them know we would have to organize,” she said. “The residents of Potomac Gardens organized, did a petition, gave the petition back to me to present to the Executive Board to request $2,000 to reach out to make this happen.” Since then, the residents have stayed involved with the project, from picking the design to helping with the build out. “This is a resident-driven project,” said Vann-Ghasri. “Each of them have an assigned skill or chore. Many of our residents that live here are unemployed; however, they have skills in construction and labor.” 

Help From Little Lights 

Vann-Ghasri credits the Little Lights Urban Ministries for bringing more organizations to help with the project. Little Lights, a non-profit taking a holistic approach to serving families and children living in poverty in Capitol Hill, have worked in Potomac Gardens and its neighboring community, Hopkins, since 1997. “We work with about 120 kids per year,” said Steve Park, founder and executive director of Little Lights. “We also have a family center and work with about 200 adults, helping people with their resumes, providing a high-speed computer lab.” Little Lights also runs the Clean Green Team, a landscaping business that employs community members. “We have a contract with DC Housing [Authority (DCHA)] to do all the landscaping work at Potomac Gardens and Hopkins,” he explained, “and we have clients, mostly on Capitol Hill.”

When it came to the new playground, Park said, “We made a commitment to push it forward and talked with Aquarius...We talked with Laurie Putscher [Director of Asset Management at DCHA]. She helped us to find a funder, Make Kids Smile...Then we talked to the Potomac Gardens property manager at CT Management and Michael Coleman. They gave $5,000 to the project; the Residents Council gave $2,000...and Little Lights provided the extra funds to help complete the funding part and kept making sure that the ball didn't get dropped.” 

Make Kids Smile

Founded in 1999 by the Ognibene family, Make Kids Smile, Inc. is a non-profit dedicated to building playgrounds for children with little to no safe recreational opportunities in the DC area. “We've built a total of 35 playgrounds,” said Peter Ognibene, Make Kids Smile's president. “Close to half of what we have built has been in DC.” Make Kids Smile has had a working relationship with DCHA since the non-profit's inception, building 12 playgrounds for its public housing properties, including Hopkins. “Little Lights really was hoping for a nice playground, and DC Housing contacted me and we came together and raised the money for this playground.” Make Kids Smile contributed $12,000 to the project. Ognibene also serves as the Chief Financial Officer at Foulger-Pratt, a commercial real estate firm, which donated $5,000 and volunteers for the installation. 

What a New Playground Means

“It's not just a playground,” said Vann-Ghasri. “If you are going to have everyone in [a safe] community, you don't blame the victim. You give everyone the opportunity to live in a decent, safe environment.” Park agreed, saying “It's a place for kids to be kids.” DCHA Director Adrianne Todman, who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony, was happy with the results. “I'm very proud of the Resident Council and I'm very proud of Little Lights for taking leadership to get this done,” she said. “I think it tells the kids that we care about them. I think it tells them that we want them to have a safe place to exercise and have a good time.”

Mary Park of Little Lights looks on as a young Potomac Gardens resident cuts the ribbon, opening the new playground. Photo Credit: DCHA