A project two years in the making was completed in Avondale last Thursday when 300-plus volunteers came together for the 2021 Reds Community Fund Community Makeover.
The Cincinnati Reds, P&G, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden once again partnered for the annual service project. This year’s Community Makeover was the biggest in the event’s 11-year existence, and for the first time, it returned to a community that had previously participated.
With the Makeover back in Avondale, home to both the Cincinnati Zoo and Cincinnati Children’s, the two groups were especially excited about this year’s project.
“This is the biggest project we have seen since the initiative began in 2010, so this is the largest team of volunteers we’ve ever had,” Cincinnati Children’s senior specialist Michelle Hopkins said. “But this is our backyard, so we really want to be as involved as possible in every single way. These are the schools that we partner with all year long, so for something like this, we want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to give back to them.”
The work was originally scheduled to be part of the 2020 Community Makeover in Avondale, most of which was postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic. While the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted last year’s efforts, the Community Makeover wasn’t a complete wash.
“We were dedicated to Avondale as a project, so we still made an impact,” P&G director of marketing Mike Frey said. “We just redirected the resources to more immediate needs -- so this year is like phase two.
“It’s been a long project in the making, but what makes it worth it is talking to the community members and hearing the excitement in their voices to actually have each of these projects come to life. I think it’s going to make a real impact on this community.”
The Makeover is designed to bring together some of Cincinnati’s oldest and most iconic institutions with local community partners to make a transformative and sustainable impact on a Cincinnati neighborhood while strengthening youth baseball and softball programs. The Reds Community Fund and P&G have partnered for the Community Makeover since 2010. The Cincinnati Zoo and Cincinnati Children’s joined the partnership in 2013 for the first project in Avondale that included Gabriel’s Place, Hirsch Recreation Center and Hirsch ballfields, and have stayed involved ever since.
This year’s Makeover was the recipient of a community development grant from Cincinnati Children’s to improve child and community health in Avondale. Many of the projects promote vibrant and healthy lifestyles through outdoor activities. Some of the elements of this year’s initiative included field renovations, new playgrounds, improved facilities, school supply donations, a toy drive and much more.
While all aspects of the Makeover are critical to improving the Avondale community, the signature element is undoubtedly the one-acre Urban Learning Garden at Rockdale Academy.
“What horticulture has done out there is nothing short of amazing,” Cincinnati Zoo construction management director Gary Gilbert said. “They always work miracles, but this is really special.”
Designed by the Cincinnati Zoo, the garden is the most visible of the projects and can even be seen from many of the rooms at Children’s. In addition to being aesthetically astounding, the garden will serve multiple functions. It will be an outdoor classroom for the students of Rockdale and other schools and community centers. The kids will have the chance to sell some of the plants grown there, which will allow them to learn about subjects like finance and entrepreneurship. There is a sensory garden that will cater to autistic children’s touch, feel and taste senses.
In addition, it’s going to become a trial garden for the zoo. As a botanical garden, the zoo has a plethora of trees and very few sunny spots. The Urban Learning Garden has heavy sun exposure, so there are certain plants and vegetables that can’t be tested at the zoo that will be brought to the garden at Rockdale. All the beds are trial beds, and many of the plants were donated from growers to give to the zoo for the trials. The zoo has also added a full-time staff member assigned to care for the garden and develop the programming surrounding it.
“The transformation of the Urban Learning Garden is one of a kind,” Frey said. “With the zoo’s leadership, the curriculum they’re putting together and the investment they’re putting into that, it’s amazing. It’s going to benefit beyond Avondale; it will benefit Cincinnati as a whole.”
Upon completion of the garden and the work at the other sites, the Makeover wrapped up with a ribbon cutting ceremony at Rockdale Academy. It was a hard day’s work that will pay off for years to come.
“It’s a little overwhelming to think about because so many partners came together in the community,” Hopkins said. “Everyone has been involved and all together, just doing it for the kids and the community.”
Additional project partners included Cincinnati Public Schools, OneSource Center for Nonprofit Excellence, Cincinnati ToolBank, Cincinnati Recreation Commission, Boys & Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati and the City of Cincinnati.
While the many partners help bring the project to life, the Reds and the Reds Community Fund continue to provide the framework while beginning the process of looking ahead to 2022 and beyond.
“All of this starts with the Cincinnati Reds and the Cincinnati Reds Community Fund,” Cincinnati Zoo vice president of facilities and planning Mark Fisher said. “It starts and stops right there. None of this happens without Charley Frank and his team.”
Details about all six Makeover sites:
• Rockdale Academy: Installed solar panels, a greenhouse and an outdoor Urban Learning Garden in conjunction with the Cincinnati Zoo; completed interior renovation for the new community room and provided new books and school supplies for each student.
• South Avondale Elementary School: Completed work on a new synthetic turf football/soccer field in conjunction with FC Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Bengals and the ABC (Activities Beyond the Classroom) Foundation; school received indoor renovations, outdoor playground enhancements and new books and school supplies for each student.
• Taft Boys & Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati: Improved facilities and resources for the after-school program included cleaning, painting and renovating the Teen Center and student program spaces, installing a new washer and dryer for the laundry room, laying new mulch for the playground, adding new picnic tables in the backyard, and supplying toys for Taft Carnival.
• Rockdale Recreation Area: Renovated the ballfield; installed a new playground and basketball court; underwrote a mural featuring the Tuskegee Airman designed by artist Brent Billingsley.
• Avondale Recreation Area: Renovated the ballfield; upgraded the tennis, pickleball and basketball courts; added other park amenities.
• Larona Park/Avondale beautification: Will soon be installing a shelter and adding a walking trail; planting trees and removing honeysuckle.