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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Aponte Works with Community to Transform Neighborhood Blight into New Neighborhood Park

In honor of International Walk to School Day, City Council President Luis Aponte today hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new park that provides students at Mary Fogarty Elementary School with a safe, welcoming route to Prairie Avenue and the South Providence Library. Aponte worked with City officials to acquire the land in 2013 and funded its redevelopment with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars. The small park was designed for the neighborhood’s Walking School Bus—a volunteer-based program coordinated by Family Service of Rhode Island that provides area students with chaperones to walk them to school.

The land, comprised of two abutting lots on Prairie and Potters Avenue, was once home to two abandoned, dilapidated properties. Aponte worked with the Providence Redevelopment Authority to acquire the properties for the City of Providence via tax foreclosure and found grant dollars to fund revitalization. “We were able to reclaim these nuisance properties that were dangerous, negative spaces and reimagine them for public use to benefit the community,” said Aponte. “The space provides a natural path from Mary Fogarty School to the South Providence Library, and decreases the density of the neighborhood. Most importantly, it serves our families and students by providing safe passage to and from school.”

Aponte was joined by Mayor Jorge Elorza, students from Fogarty Elementary School, and representatives from Providence Public Schools, the Providence Parks Department, Family Service of Rhode Island, DownCity Design, Groundwork Providence, and the South Providence Library. Walking School Bus volunteers and community members were also in attendance.

"By reclaiming our vacant properties and putting them to better uses, we are rebuilding our city's empty lots with parks and safe spaces," said Mayor Elorza. "Projects like these are an important part of reconnecting our neighborhoods and building strong and vibrant communities."

Fogarty Elementary School Principal Courtney Monterecy said that students enjoy having a “friendly face waiting for them each morning” and that the Walking School Bus has bolstered attendance among students who use the program. "We are doing whatever it takes to improve student attendance, and our Walking School Bus program targets children who may not have anyone to walk them to school in the morning. Over the past few years, we've seen improvements in students who were previously categorized as 'chronically absent.'”

Aponte acknowledged the many partners who worked to bring his vision to life, including the Providence Parks Department and the community volunteers who walk students to school each day. “There are many students who live too close to the school to qualify for bussing, but are too young to realistically walk to school alone,” said Aponte. “Family Service of Rhode Island has been a great partner in coordinating chaperones to make the Walking School Bus possible.”

“Family Service of Rhode Island is honored to have a park named for our Walking School Bus program,” said Kimberly Fernandez, who directs the program. “Many thanks to Council President Aponte and all who supported his effort to turn an eyesore into an enjoyable space for kids.”

Fernandez added that she hopes to coordinate a “friends of” group for the new park, and that the Walking School Bus program, which serves students at a number of Providence schools, is looking for volunteers. Interested parties should contact her directly at (401) 999-4092 or fernandezki@familyserviceri.org.