La Mesa Park & Recreation Foundation supports city goals for creating beautiful, healthy, livable community

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The City of La Mesa is unabashed in its dedication to residents, pledging to make La Mesa “the healthiest and most livable community” in the area. And a significant portion of the city’s efforts involves creating more park green spaces, recreational opportunities and community engagement events. Adding new parks within the city is a key component in this active health and wellness outreach to La Mesans, but city budget coffers have been lacking to match these visionary plans.

The City of La Mesa is unabashed in its dedication to residents, pledging to make La Mesa “the healthiest and most livable community” in the area. And a significant portion of the city’s efforts involves creating more park green spaces, recreational opportunities and community engagement events. Adding new parks within the city is a key component in this active health and wellness outreach to La Mesans, but city budget coffers have been lacking to match these visionary plans.

Stepping in to fill that void has been the La Mesa Park & Recreation Foundation (LMPRF). This nonprofit organization was established in 1999 to assist with assembling the money needed to build two parks. La Mesa city officials and community leaders had noted that changing demographics as the city grew had created an unmet need for more open spaces for families and their children to play. First on the list was a 23-acre sports complex on the grounds of Parkway Middle School. The Foundation raised and granted over $1 million towards project construction costs, and the facility became the Junior Seau Sports Complex. (The former Charger player’s children were born in La Mesa, and he participated with community organizations in assisting that initial funding drive.)

Next up was the Briercrest Park adjacent to Grossmont Hospital. That park project was designed to promote a healing environment supportive of the medical facilities nearby.

Although those two projects ended the scope of the LMPRF’s specific goals at the time, Foundation board members paused for reflection about whether their organization’s overall objectives were completed. They concluded, no, their work was not done. La Mesa had other community needs for expanded recreational facilities and programs that LMPRF could fulfill, so the Foundation embarked on continuing the mission.

The organization pressed forward with construction of the Boys and Girls Club Teen Center. That facility is located in Highwood Park next to La Mesa Middle School.

Vicki Whitmire is current president of the LMPRF board. She outlines the organization’s ongoing goals as creating a healthy environment, providing activities, strengthening the community, building family bonds and encouraging more active lifestyles. She pointed out as an example the summer concert and movie series, offering free open-air entertainment as a backdrop for families picnicking and playing in park areas.

She praises other members serving on the LMPRF board for their “100 percent participation” and being “not self-serving but self-giving in their accountability to the community.” Thirteen members serve on the board. Whitmire further indicates that, if asked to continue, she might serve as board president for another term. “This is a great organization, with very nice people on the board,” she says.

Yvonne Garrett serves in the dual roles of director of LMPRF and La Mesa’s assistant city manager/director of community services. She describes the Foundation’s efforts as essential in delivering more and better parks and activities. The current list of projects under development includes a series of what she terms “wild playgrounds,” which are expansive and interactive in engaging youth to stay outdoors, be active and play. Kicked off in 2009, this capital campaign, called “It’s Child’s Play,” has been dedicated to renovating five parks.

The Foundation has been operating on two tracks to raise money for these continuing park projects and programs. One of these has sought, and is still seeking, large corporate donors whose charitable contributions are honored in themes chosen for the parkland built with their donations. The Jackson Park Playground, first up for revamping under It’s Child’s Play, was paid for in large part by the Drew Ford Family. That play area features a transportation theme. Northmont Park, near the intersection of Amaya Drive and Severin Drive, was completed in January 2014. Funded with substantial donations from Grossmont Center and Bill and Norma Verbeck, Northmont Park sports nature themes.

The three remaining locations to be transformed are the Vista La Mesa, Collier Park and La Mesita Park Playgrounds. The Foundation hopes to make significant progress in raising enough money to finish the next park this year.

The second fundraising track, now a priority focus for the LMPRF, is the group’s annual campaign reaching out to individuals in La Mesa, asking them to pay for membership in the organization at differing levels of possible involvement and contribution, with varying benefits based on membership level. The basic membership fee of $25 per year provides the benefit of a window sticker denoting LMPRF membership. Members joining with at the $100 level receive a LMPRF baseball cap, recognition in LMPRF publications and an invitation to the Foundation’s annual breakfast meeting. Donors choosing to join at higher payment levels are offered private park tours and discounts on special events.

Money available from the annual campaign is slated toward ongoing activities, such as the park concerts, science events and arts programs. Last fall offered La Mesans astronomy lessons with a stargazing night in the park. Coming in April is a science day termed “Fun with Physics.”

This year’s fundraising cycle began in December 2014 and has 20 donors to date, based on an internal membership drive of leadership gifts. (Whitmire’s was the first donation.)

The organization has a goal of raising $20,000 by the end of June. Board members are about halfway there. 

“We are all about building the community through activities,” Garrett explains.

“Our success is made possible by participation from individuals and organizations committed to making La Mesa a better place to live, work, and play,” the LMPRF newsletter declares of its purpose. Anyone wishing more information about the organization and membership, should visit www.lamesaparks.org.

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