Philadelphia and Oakland community centers key to unlocking vibrant communities with support from H&R Block
Community centers, as a place for recurring social interaction, play an outsized role in fostering deeper and lasting connections between neighbors. “When social infrastructure is robust, it fosters contact, mutual support…when degraded, it inhibits social activity…” said sociology expert Eric Klinenberg, in a 2018 article for the Atlantic.
Recognizing the importance of social infrastructure to foster contact among friends and neighbors, H&R Block and Nextdoor selected two community center projects from the nearly 2,000 nominations as part of their Make Every Block Better initiative to transform and revitalize spaces where neighbors gather. The Allendale Recreation Center in Oakland, Calif., and the Water Tower Recreation Center in Philadelphia, Penn., both received upgrades identified as needs by their project nominators.
In Philadelphia, Laura Lucas, project nominator and former president of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, recognized the importance of the Water Tower Recreation Center in serving her community when she submitted their project. “All walks of life use our community center. We have youth programs and adults playing pickleball or using the tennis courts. It’s a real community and family hub. Chestnut Hill is a little village where everyone knows each other,” Lucas says.
Keith Kunz is the president of the Water Tower Advisory Council, a group of volunteers that oversees the building and the programs at the recreation center. As Water Tower Recreation Center celebrates its 100th anniversary, Kunz has been focused on bringing the building back to its community roots and making improvements. He says, “At one point we actually lost touch with the community. And, a little more recently that’s been part of our outreach, to bring the community back to the rec center. Make it not just for the kids but for everybody.” Water Tower Recreation Center received new windscreens for the pickleball and tennis courts, which Kunz anticipates will encourage even more new players.
Across the country in Oakland, Calif., the Allendale Recreation Center in the Laurel District is focused on afterschool programs for K-5 students from two nearby schools and serves up to 60 families each week.
“We want a safe space for everyone to join and gather. A lot of the homes in this neighborhood don’t have very much front yard space, it’s very small. It’s good to have public green space, play space for people to enjoy,” says, Maribel Lopez, recreation supervisor, Oakland Parks, Recreation and Youth Development. Lopez is Oakland born and raised but she says, “In 2019, I was new to the park and this particular community and I saw so much potential, it’s right behind a school, and part of a community that’s thriving.” Lopez saw that the center was receiving a new playground, but the blacktop, basketball courts and building still needed to reflect “what the people and families of Oakland deserve.”
The H&R Block and Nextdoor project at Allendale included improving the outdoor spaces by painting the basketball courts, exterior of the building, and Oakland’s only 8-ball court, making Allendale host to an annual city tournament that engages players from all 19 community centers across the city.
Community centers help keep communities strong and tackle social isolation by allowing residents to stay involved and participate in activities that establish new relationships. The diversity of programs and activities across recreation centers, like pickleball in Philadelphia or 8-ball tournaments in Oakland, can support different types of connections whether they’re lasting friendships or shorter encounters. H&R Block is committed to community improvement through its Make Every Block Better initiative, which aims to tackle social isolation and loneliness block by block.
Photographs by Brett Ziegler.
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