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Meadows Park Community Center: Built by community for community 

DiverseCity

Note: This is the second part in our series on the city’s vibrant community centers. Read about Deerfield Hills Community Center here.
On any given Wednesday, a group of women, predominantly Latina, meet at Meadows Park Community Center for a boot camp class, taught by Logan Baumgarn, a grant-funded fitness trainer for a partnership between the center and the American Diabetes Association. The program offers free workout classes that are designed to help those who are diabetic or prediabetic improve their health, but they are open to everyone.

The class, and the center, feel vibrant. But the Stratton Meadows neighborhood where they’re located isn’t always portrayed that way. To some, it’s nothing more than the driveway to The Broadmoor, or an eyesore. But, there’s more richness here than meets the eye. And one of the best places to see it is at the community center.

Mariah Welsh, a boot camp participant, has lived just down the street from the center for five years. She’s proud of her neighborhood, but remembers someone once commenting to her, “Ohhh, you live in the Meadow, that’s bad.”

“That has never been my experience,” she says. Welsh, who has a goal of one day joining the Air Force, says the center is conveniently located, allowing her to hustle there from work. And she appreciates the way the class pushes her limits.

“[Baumgarn] just knows how to train me personally, he makes relationships with all of us in different ways... I’ve built so much muscle, I couldn’t run a mile or do a push-up before this, now I’m doing like 20.”

Ada Parra, another boot camp participant, says she’s tried various programs at both Deerfield Hills and Meadows Park community centers. They’ve helped her lose 125 pounds. “I have 30 pounds to lose, but in my mind I am a size 2,” she says. 
Like Welsh, she’s heard the negative talk about her neighborhood, but loves where she lives. “There’s nothing wrong with the neighborhood,” she says. “There’s not trash everywhere, or graffiti. [It’s a community] of grandmas and grandpas... It just needs more attention.”
That said, the old-strip-mall-turned-community-center in Stratton Meadows is in obvious need of repairs. And the whole neighborhood feels a world away from the ritzy Broadmoor and fast-gentrifying Ivywild neighborhoods just across South Nevada Avenue.

Not entirely in the Southeast, but not far from it, the residential streets here feature many post-World War II ranchers — some of which recently eclipsed the $200,000 mark.

Brian Kates, the director of Meadows Park Community Center, says that while the neighborhood has some wealthier patches, it’s also home to some of the poorest people in the city. Take B Street, an area that is essentially isolated by Interstate 25 and Fort Carson fencing. I have to be honest: The first time I saw it, I was shocked that level of poverty existed in Colorado Springs.

But in 2010, a time when community centers were facing the threat of closure, Meadows Park doubled down and expanded its services to the area. Now the center acts as the distribution point for some 1,500 pounds of free food from local retailers a week for the needy. “That’s the strength of this neighborhood... its social capital, its resiliency,” says Kates. In 2017, Meadows Park was visited close to 64,000 times and offered 63 different programs.

For single-parent homes, the services that centers like Meadows Park offer are invaluable. As one mom says, “The center offers a lot of possibilities for us. They watch the kids, they offer snacks and now we can work out.”

It’s tempting to think of the city-funded center as a savior of sorts — a way for the city to intervene in a bad situation and help a needy neighborhood connect, or be healthier, or care for its poorest residents. But Kates says Meadows Park was started because of the activism of the area’s residents, which led the city to introduce programming in the early 1980s, starting with summer youth programs. The programs were so popular that the city opened a headquarters in a nearby strip mall. But eventually, the community outgrew that space too, and the center took over the whole strip mall in 1987.

Now the center is working to grow the community spirit that built it. In April, the center hired Karen Fleming as a community connector. Her charge: Connecting folks in Stratton Meadows and Ivywild, collectively known as “SMIvywild.”

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