When Manuel Rivera and his south Modesto neighbors first started working to improve Fairview Park, the place was mostly dirt and potholes. Families used to stay away from the park, which had garnered a reputation as a hangout for gang members and drug users.
Perceptions of Fairview Park have changed in the past two years, and so has the park itself. Rivera said more families are using the site, and improvement efforts have made the place a more suitable venue for community events designed to bring neighbors together.
“For many years, we felt isolated (from each other),” said Rivera, who is a member of Manos Unidas, a group of south Modesto residents working to improve their neighborhood. “That’s our neighborhood park, and it had been neglected.”
The neighborhood group is holding a soccer tournament Aug. 17 with 16 teams and about 240 players ages 6 to 10. Ramirez said the tournament’s size is a good example of how far Fairview Park has come in a couple of years.
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“It’s a safe place for the kids to come and play,” Rivera said.
The tournament is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with the first kickoff at 9 a.m. The park near Tuscon and West Whitmore avenues is large enough that multiple soccer games will be going at the same time.
The event is free to spectators. There also will be soccer practice drills set up for children who are not already signed up to participate in the tournament.
Manos Unidas will host a concession stand selling nachos, hot dogs and sodas, with all profits being used to fund improvement efforts at the park. The group wants to install playground equipment.
Rivera said the Stanislaus County Parks and Recreation Department has redirected some resources to fill in potholes and replant grass throughout the park. Donated picnic tables and barbecue pits have been installed.
The south Modesto neighborhood group routinely meets at the park to plan other community improvement efforts.
“We’ve never had a safety issue out there,” Rivera said.
Manos Unidas began with a goal of using the talent and skills within the neighborhood to improve the quality of life for residents. The group also wants to empower residents and get them working together to find solutions to common problems.
Rivera said south Modesto resident and artist Fernando Navarro will design a mural to be painted on the building housing the park’s bathrooms. The building has been vandalized again and again, and the neighborhood group hopes the mural will deter vandals.
Manos Unidas will seek input from residents on what should be depicted in the community-themed mural. Rivera said the group also enlisted the help of local students to paint the mural, a project they expect will take a few months to complete.
Since Manos Unidas’ inception about three years ago, the volunteers organized neighborhood cleanups and a 5K Race-Walk for Peace before launching Fairview Park’s revitalization.
The group hosted a Dia del Niño event in late May, when about 200 people came to the park to participate in children’s activities and games. At 6 p.m. Aug. 29, the group will hold the first of its free family movie nights at the park.
“We want to do more things in the community where we come together,” Rivera said. “We do live in the same neighborhood. We want to be in the situation where we can turn to each other for help.”