Natalie Kainz, Contributing Photographer
On Saturday morning, a park in the Dwight neighborhood was abuzz with energy. Children raced along the sidewalk on new bikes and munched on snacks provided by a nearby church. Families reflected on what Kensington Playground means to the community.
April 17 was “Kid’s Bike Safety Day” for the Friends of Kensington Playground — a group formed in the Dwight neighborhood to oppose the city’s decision to sell the local park, Kensington Playground, for affordable housing. In a bid to show how much the park means to local families, FOKP helped give away free refurbished bikes to 13 local families. Students applied in advance for a bike through a notification sent to the nearby Augusta Troup School. At 10 a.m. on Saturday, families gathered in the park to pick up the bikes, learn to ride them and get free safety equipment and advice. The event was part of a series of events organized by FOKP to save Kensington Playground, a place where families can ride their bikes.
“We’re really trying to make Kensington Playground a better environment for all,” said Olivia Martson, the event’s organizer.
Martson and her co-organizer Jane Comins reached out to Bikes for Kids, the Devil’s Gear Bike Shop and Upon This Rock Ministries — three local organizations that donated bikes and helmets. Devil’s Gear provided their repair services. Children were also given Kryptonite bike locks and LED bike lights. Families were given a free ticket sponsored by Chapel West to ride for free in the Earth Day Rock to Rock Family Bike Ride on Saturday, April 24.
“I think bikes and kids go together,” Comins said. “It’s your first sense of freedom as a child to get out and ride around without your parents.”
Veronica Sanchez’s son, David Pena, received his first bike through the giveaway. Although the family only lives a block away from Kensington Playground, Sanchez told the News that for a long time, she did not bring her children to the park because she felt that it was not safe. She said the bike giveaway helped change her perception of the area.
“They’re trying to keep the park clean so they can bring more toys,” Sanchez said. “I see a lot of people and the police right now [so] I feel safe.”
In addition to the bike giveaway, FOKP members planted flowers at the entrances of the park to make it seem more welcoming. Sanchez said the group succeeded in their mission and that she intends to bring her son to Kensington Playground more often now because it is the nearest park to her home.
During the event, Paul Hammer SOM ’85, an instructor for the League of American Bicyclists, taught Pena how to ride his bike. Hammer taught parents how to assist their children in learning to ride and gave out safety advice like “be careful of doors opening,” “make sure to signal” and “ride on the right side of the road.”
“Every kid should grow up having a bike,” Hammer said. “It’s a way to prepare to be responsible on the road but it’s also a way to be independent, to keep fit and to have fun.”
Hammer set up a cone on Kensington Playground’s splash pad and taught children how to swerve around it as if it was an obstacle. He told the News that the park should be protected as one of the few public spaces in the neighborhood where kids can safely learn to ride their bikes.
During the event, Hammer taught Anton Lee to ride his bike for the first time without training wheels. Although Anton already had a bike, his mother, Tankenya Lee, was given an adult bike to ride with her son.
Lee told the News that she comes to the park whenever she does not have to work in the mornings. She lives right next door and often cooks on her grill outside. She said that Kensington Playground is conveniently located for neighborhood families like her own.
“This would be a lot of money if everyone had to buy a bike,” Lee said. “I haven’t seen a lot of people in the park like this in a while. I even made some new friends.”
For 10-year-old Amari Watson and his sister, Winter Carter, Kensington Playground is a place for playing football and basketball during the weekends with their family. Both siblings received new bikes through the giveaway.
Amari Watson told the News that when he heard the park was being sold, he was “disappointed” because is excited to ride his bike there on the weekends. His blue bike was donated by Bikes for Kids.
The bike event is not the only FOKP-organized event aiming to preserve . On April 3, FOKP held a food pantry and an easter basket giveaway in the park for community members. According to Martson, they will also be organizing a book pop-up and a clothing drive. All of the events are intended to encourage families to use the park and demonstrate its value to the city.
Tina Alford, a nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital, did not sign up for the event but visited during her break when she found out that FOKP was giving away bikes. Alford has four kids and was hoping to get a bike for her son.
“When it’s nice out during our break we [nurses] will come to [this park] and eat our lunch,” said Alford. “[This park] is one of the last little things the kids have left — they have no place in the community to go and play.”
St. Martin de Porres Church provided water bottles, granola bars and trail mix as refreshments for the event.
Natalie Kainz | email@example.com