Campbell Park Recreation Center is a popular local facility where children come to swim on a hot summer’s day or romp on the state of the art playground. Whether indoors at the gymnasium or outside on one of the four basketball courts, families from all over St. Petersburg gather here to interact as a community.
But according to some local residents the facility located at, 601 14th St. S., was lacking in one area— color.
“I wanted us to improve our natural environment, our neighborhood environment,” said Coy LaSister, executive director with Assisted Living Community Gardens (ALCG).
Although blessed with an abundance of green space, the grounds have recently been bare of smile inducing color. So LaSister came up with an idea to change all of that.
Campbell Park Gets New Flower Beds
“Frequently we have folks come to us from the community with an idea, a concept,” said Park and Recreation Department director Michael Jefferis, who helped LaSister with the new Horticulture Sensory Garden. “Coy is one of the few people who not only had a vision, but actually had a methodology and a way to get it done.”
LaSister found the funding by applying for the MLK Day of Service grant made possible by State Representative Daryl Rouson’s tireless efforts to put St. Petersburg and its surrounding counties on the map for volunteerism.
On the actual day of service volunteers of the Assisted Living Gardens provided bags of healthy fresh organic produce that they purchased from Worden Farm. Seventeen families received the fresh produce package. Homemade 15 bean vegetable soup was also provided to roughly 50 hungry residents. But LaSister wanted to do more, and brainstormed a second segment to his project.
The Sensory Garden
The project celebration marked a new face for the rec center. One that Jeffries believes will not only bring happiness to its visitors but lay the foundation for many local youths to get involved in gardening for the first time.
“I remember when we were digging up the old plant material and weeds,” Jeffries said reminiscing about the afternoon of January 20 when he witnessed a middle school girl’s reaction after seeing her first grub. “I remember thinking that’s success. That’s as cool as it gets.”
Lasister and his crew consisting of nearly 30 students attending the after school rec program at Campbell Park excavated the drab plants previously lining the entranceway and replaced them with flowering plants that in the coming months will produce an array of delightful color. Wildflowers native to Florida were chosen with the help of Green Season, Well Tree, and Wilcox Nurseries, who offered advice and donations.
“Yes, we did it together,” said Verline Moore the recreation supervisor at Campbell Park. She was responsible for rounding up the kids to take part, which she pulled from the various programs at the rec center. “We worked diligently together just helping one another make the community more colorful.”
So far they have received wonderful reviews.
But perhaps the grandest accomplishment was not just the pretty flowers but the sense of community amongst the younger generation who participated in the event. The youth involved engaged in physical exercise, dug in the dirt, and really learned about nature, according to LaSister, whose plan to beautify not just the center’s main walkway, but the disposition of all who come in contact with it, was a success
“It’s a special day,” he said.
Master Gardener Debra Black was also recognized for her contributions to the garden. As part of the technical team behind the planting, Black was responsible for guiding LaSister in what plants to purchase. As she addressed the crowd she had some summer ideas for the youngsters.
“One of the joys about planting is that it’s the little things that are really important,” Black said as she encouraged the children to really pay attention to the flowers and their blooming patterns in the spring and summer months. “If you have the time and the inclination, keep a journal to note changes that happen.”
Plans are currently underway to expand the sensory garden concept to other recreational centers throughout St. Petersburg. Next on the list are Enoch Davis Center and the Frank W. Pierce Recreation Center.