Annual Community Makeover impacts Cincinnati neighborhood

August 2nd, 2023

The culmination of the 14th annual Community Makeover took place in Madisonville on Thursday, July 27.

Each year the Reds Community Fund (RCF) works with its partners to choose a local neighborhood to make a transformative and sustainable impact while keeping with the RCF’s mission of strengthening youth baseball and softball programs.

With Madisonville’s population on the rise for the first time in 60 years, this fast-growing community of more than 10,000 was identified for this year’s makeover.

The RCF, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, P&G and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center teamed up with close to 500 volunteers to transform four locations throughout Madisonville. The sites included John P. Parker Elementary School, Madisonville Education & Assistance Center, Bramble Park and Shroder High School.

Other partners include OneSource Center, GE Aerospace, Cincinnati ToolBank, SonLight Power, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Duke Energy Foundation, Cincinnati Recreation Commission and Medpace.

RCF executive director Charley Frank described the day as, “The one big annual initiative that’s beyond our day-to-day mission of baseball, softball and education. It is the most daunting but arguably most rewarding day of the year. It draws upon our hidden strengths, relationship building and partnerships we have developed over the years. It is not just working with other organizations but doing so at a deep level. It takes a year to identify the sites and plan it. I really believe our ownership looks at this as one of the reasons they purchased the Reds: to lift and to build the community.”

Thousands of hours went into planning this day, with each company involved drawing from their strengths to ensure the tasks got completed. The event began in the morning at John P. Parker Elementary School, where STEM Labs were created with solar panels made possible by SonLight Power and GE Aerospace. Cincinnati Children’s ensured the nurse’s room was given a full makeover.

Taking advantage of the Cincinnati Zoo’s award-winning horticultural, design and sustainability teams, multiple gardens, a 60-foot natural archway, playscapes, an amphitheater and an outdoor gathering space were created, and they are composed of 2,500 perennials, 60 large trees, 60 flowering vines and 60 different edible berries to help cultivate curiosity and hands-on learning.

“We think globally, but we act locally,” director of the horticultural division of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens Steve Foltz said. “We are hoping this is a beautiful space for the people of Madisonville. That they will come in and see all the animals and plants and be inspired.”

On top of being one of the biggest and most impactful upgrades, the zoo’s horticulture team created a new Urban Learning Garden at the school that is modeled after the Urban Learning Garden at Rockdale Academy, which was part of the 2021 Community Makeover in Avondale. It includes similar elements like pollinator gardens, solar panels, flowering vines and vegetables. Many of the plants in the new garden came from the garden at Rockdale.

“We are building a system rather than just doing a gardening job. We hope each system will build on to each other and be impactful,” Foltz explained.

The Community Makeover worked hard to ensure the system created impacted everyone in the community, not just the children. The Madisonville Education and Assistance Center, which acts as a food pantry, provides financial support for families and offers counseling after crisis was given an upgrade worthy of the important work they do for the Madisonville community. Walls were painted, floors were redone and offices were given makeovers. The food pantry was also restocked with help from Freestore Foodbank.

“After being familiar with the Reds Community Fund and the work they do in communities, it has been amazing for it to be here in Madisonville with all of us,” said Vashti Rutledge, executive director of the Madisonville Education and Assistance Center. “Even just today, seeing the sweat equity put in from these volunteers to ensure that we can have a better organization to serve the community has been impactful.”

“It is really fulfilling and gratifying to see all the work play out in front of your eyes,” Cincinnati Children’s senior specialist in community engagement Hayley Shropshire said. “It is truly our passion to meet the community where they are, and we cannot be where we are if we are not out in the community making it a better, healthier place for both the children and parents.”

Other areas within Madisonville experiencing enhancements include Bramble Park and Schroder High School. Bramble Park underwent a comprehensive makeover with a renovated baseball/softball field, the addition of trail improvements and the installation of flood flights to enhance safety.

Schroder High School was given a new outdoor sitting area and garden, which was also designed by the Cincinnati Zoo. Local artist Brent Billingsley, who works closely with the Reds and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, created a mural project for the high school. With the help of many volunteers, the gymnasium now boasts a striking large mural, while the hallways are adorned with jaguar stripes featuring the school’s honor code, serving as a source of pride and inspiration for the students and staff.

LaVaugn Neal, principal of Shroder High School, cannot wait for her students to see the changes on the first day of school. “It has been a wonderful experience. It is beyond my wildest dreams, and I know our kids will be super excited.”

Toys for Tots and Shoes 4 the Shoeless were also part of the Makeover, distributing shoes and toys for the children in the area at Madisonville Recreation Center. Roughly 300 families signed up to receive these donations. This new community engagement event activated a fifth location in Madisonville throughout the day and was hosted by the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. Dayton-based Shoes 4 the Shoeless made the shoe distribution possible, while OneSource and Toys for Tots joined forces for the third straight year of the Makeover.

Cincinnati native and Greater Cincinnati director of Shoes 4 the Shoeless Jon Ford marveled at how so many iconic Cincinnati businesses came together to help the community.

“Seeing the Reds, P&G, CRC, United Way, just all different people and groups coming out to show they care about the community and these kids and their needs, it’s a blessing and it is so special," Ford said. "I hope everyone unites so that we all can work together for the good of not just Madisonville but Greater Cincinnati as well.”

The Community Makeover has expanded tenfold since the beginning days of just a field makeover project. With this growth has come impactful partnerships and the ability to help not just young athletes, but every member of the community.

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