Families and friends worked together to lay sod
MABTON, WASHINGTON - If it "takes a village," make sure it includes a park. That's the view from Mabton, Washington, a city of about 2,200 just off Interstate 82 about halfway between Yakima and the Tri-Cities in Washington.
It's a farming community - hops, grapes, apples - with some of the world's most fertile and productive farmland. No surprise, agriculture's the major employer. Which is where the non-profit Catholic Charities Housing Services of Yakima comes in. Since its founding in 1998, it's been "bringing hope to life" by working with parishes, community groups and local governments by developing and providing affordable housing options in a seven-county area
of central Washington.
Good housing at good prices for good, hardworking people is at the centerpiece of CCHS's work in Mabton. It began in 2002 when, with low income housing tax credits from the Washington State Housing Commission and assistance from, among others, HUD, it built the 36-unit apartment complex known as New Life Villa. It offered farm worker families an affordable alternative to life in a labor camp that, frankly, usually isn't the cleanest or safest place to raise kids.
The same year it started work on a 32-unit single-family development with HUD's self-help funds, 250 hours of "sweat equity" from each prospective homeowner and mortgage financing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In April, 2012, it celebrated closings on the last two homes in the subdivision.
Who's living in New Life? More than half the families are very low income. Forty percent are farm worker families. A half-dozen once were renters in New Life Villa and are now owners at New Life Homes. And, maybe most impressive, not a single one of the 54 owners have gone through foreclosure.
But something was missing. A place where kids could play, families could picnic and the community could gather - a park. Fortunately, way back when it first planned the community CCHS had set-aside 1.5 acres in the New Life Homes subdivision to donate for precisely that purpose.
On one condition. The community had to envision, plan, help fund and, ultimately, help build the park. A grant from the Yakima Valley Community Foundation allowed the community to hire the Pomegranate Center of Issaquah for an initial design. Everything else would be up to the community.
The process was likened to an iceberg. What's above the surface and visible are the tangibles - the park. What's invisible are the intangible benefits that flow from "creating the opportunity for people to apply their skills and gifts; giving people an excuse to be together; a grassroots endeavor requiring unified community efforts."
The community responded. Local businesses contributed funds. Students from landscaping, turf management and other classes at Mabton High took the lead in planning the park's construction, increasing public awareness and fundraising. City Council members enthusiastically participated in the planning process and in developing a long-term maintenance plan for the park.
Plans for the park - a natural playground area, amphitheater, rain trellis, walking paths, sand volleyball court, picnic shelter, restrooms, all purpose recreational field and, maybe, a skate park - were finalized in early 2011. Volunteers graded the site last year and, on a rainy, windy, wintry Saturday morning this year, they laid the sod.
So far, the moms and dads and kids - and lots of 'em - of Mabton have contributed "about 1,500 hours." of work. Between now and the grand opening, observed The Yakima Herald " the numbers surely will be higher."
The process, said CCH Director Bryan Ketchum, has been "transformative." It proved, added Celina Martinez of the park's steering committee, that Mabton "has a lot of potential" and "a lot of smart people." A great place, in other words, that's about to have its own great park.Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP)
Read Ross Courtney's story in The Yakima Herald about Mabton's new park.