New playground, new watch group

Three-year-olds Alex Bousquet-Powers and Ezequiel Vega run though the waters of the spray park at Chapman Playground where a community watch group has been organized to protect the playground and neighborhood. (Photo by The Westfield News/Carl E. Hartdegen)

WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – An effort to protect the Chapman Playground area is resulting in the formation of a new community watch group which is being organized to preserve the improvements made to the playground by the million dollar renovation project which was completed in 2012.

Community Policing Officer Kevin Bard reports that two couples, Donna and Tom St. Jean and Bonnie and Kym Lynch, have been keeping an eye on the park and recently started an effort to expand their efforts into an active community watch group.
Donna St. Jean said that her goal is “to keep it (the playground) safe for the kids, to keep it nice and to keep it active” and said that local residents need to be “eyes” on the park and to call police when problems are observed.

The playground has long been attractive to persons who engage in unsavory activities which a watch group can discourage.
Because the park is bordered by the dike along the river which incorporates a well used walking path, homeless persons and transients have had a history of drinking alcohol in and near the park. In addition, older youths have been known to gather at the park, often after dark, to engage in prohibited activities away from parental supervision.

St. Jean said that watchers who will report such behaviors to police are necessary because “the police can’t be everywhere at all times” although she said “I can’t say enough about them, they work really hard with us.”

She said that regular reporting of undesirable activity at the playground will reduce the number of such incidents because “the more that know it’s being watched, the less they’ll go there.”

The community watch group can fill another function, as well, by engaging neighborhood youths, helping them to take ownership of the playground and making them feel invested in their neighborhood.

“We’re over there a lot” said Bonnie Lynch who said that her husband, Kym, plays basketball with children at the playground and said that she has spent time removing graffiti from walls and tables.

She said that engaging the teens has had some success and pointed to a graffiti problem which seems to have at least moderated.
She said that, after cleaning graffiti which had included signed declarations of love, she asked the older kids to talk with the younger youths about the issue and said “since then, no more graffiti.”

In addition, St. Jean said that the active presence of Kym Lynch at the park and success engaging the youths in the playground will lead to another of her goals, that of preventing bullying of children at the playground by other youths.

St. Jean said that the youths who have become involved were asked to create a “wish list” and said “they came up with a very reasonable list.”

The youngsters asked from more trash barrels and also for portable toilets since the toilets at the park are locked except during planned events.

She said that the trash barrels were provided and a portable toilet was delivered and chained down. She said the group is working on more benches, another request from the teenagers. St. Jean also said that her effort to involve the adults in the neighborhood led to a May meeting at The Sons of Erin to establish the watch group.

She lauded the support she said she gets from the Irish club and said that participants brought “lots of interest.”
St. Jean would like to involve residents to keep watch on more than the playground, she said, and said that eyes on the “feeder streets” such as Otis, Fowler and William streets (which lead to the park) can help prevent problems before they reach the playground.

But, she said, “We’ll see where we go depending on how many (residents) get involved.”
She said that the group plans to stage another meeting in August to organize groups of watchers and said that she is hoping to stage a block party before spring.

St. Jean said that she hopes the new watch group will be able to coordinate with the other community watch group in the city, the White Street community watch group led by Dawn Sienkiewicz.

“They’re on one side of Meadow Street, we’re on the other” she said. “Together we make a whole.”

Media Credit: The Westfield News

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