CHIPLEY – Overgrown and unkempt tennis lots and basketball courts with virtually no goals. That's the breadth of the recreational offerings for some youth of Chipley.
Citing the need for things for children in the community to do, Carla Rhynes Campbell passed around a petition months ago that garnered hundreds of signatures. The petition was meant to show the need for basketball goals, tetherball poles and a place for children to go and play safely - a place that wasn’t in the street or in someone’s yard.
"I don’t care where the city would decide to put a facility," Campbell said. "I would prefer it in this community, but as long as something is put in place for the kids then I would be okay with that."
The inner-city community, she meant. A place where, city officials said, basketball courts had become hubs for crime and mischief. In response, City of Chipley stripped the courts of their nets.
"Basketball seems to be the big thing, but years ago the City took the basketball goals out of Gilmore and Shivers Park’s because of the things that were going on," said City Administrator Dan Miner. "The cussing, fighting, drinking, drugs and vandalism were cut out and the parks were made passive."
However, with the support of the community - namely a group that calls itself Community in Action, headed up by Campbell, and Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church (JMBC) - local youth can look forward to the coming of new recreational facilities.
JMBC will manage the city-owned tennis courts and track behind the TJ Roulhac Enrichment Center, which will be home to the new facilities.
In December last year, JMBC Pastor Tony Davis approached the Chipley City Council asking for permission to make use of the track and courts as part of an outreach activity for the church. The council voted to approve the request, contingent on the church providing liability insurance with the city as secondary on the policy.
In June, Campbell, petition in-hand, also approached the council for permission to make use of the same property.
Although there appears to be some division between the two groups, seeing the pressing desire from the community to reactivate the parks, the City, through the Recreation Advisory Committee, is poised to help jumpstart the process.
Chipley Recreation Director Brock Tate said the Recreation Advisory Committee (RAC) will support any program that involves the youth being active in their communities.
"The RAC is supportive of any programs or activities that encourages our youth to be active," Tate said. "We want them to be active in their community. As a committee we will support that in any way we can."
While the city may use funds from their parks and recreation budget or even Chipley Redevelopment Agency funds to help JMBC with equipment, improvements and upkeep, Miner said he will advise the council against using Florida Recreational Assistance Grant Program(FRDAP) funds for the project.
"When applying FRDAP funds, you have to dedicate that piece of property for that project, forevermore," said Miner. "I think it would be better to use other funding sources for that because you just don’t know what tomorrow brings."
The road to fulfilling the project has been a divided one.
Campbell expressed some dismay about the church getting the ultimate permission to pursue the project after her group had been approached by Chipley Redevelopment Agency to develop a list of recreational needs. Once the list was delivered, and with hundreds of signatures of support, she began to invest more time into attending council meetings and speaking with the council.
She stated in a candid conversation with The News that she felt the grassroots group Community in Action was let down and possibly undermined. Further, she was concerned that putting the project in the hands of one organization, instead of allowing it be community-based, increases the chances for mismanagement.
But Miner said the needs of several groups were all the same.
"Both JMBC and Community in Action, as well as TJ Roulhac, all have the same ideas about what the community needs," Miner said. "JMBC came to us first and got the go ahead to make use of the facilities."
Also, it is important to note the central funding source will not necessarily come from the City and the project would require insurance, which the church already has.
JMBC is happy to work with the city to provide a safe and healthy environment for kids to come to according to Pastor Davis.
"We have already started a personal fitness challenge in the church that has spread to the neighborhood," Davis said. "We hope to build on that momentum."
With JMBC taking the helm, Davis said, residents can expect something for everyone of all ages: a softball league, soccer league and an adult flag football league, which will be open to all Chipley residents.
"We are excited to work with the city to provide a service to our community," Davis concluded. "We will have activities for the kids and adults alike in a healthy environment. In turn, helping them live a healthier lifestyle."
For more information contact Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church at 850-638-7036.