The Community built the SPARC; the SPARC builds Community

In the spring of 2015, Homer parents Lisa and Daniel Zatz were frustrated that no place was available for their son and his friends to play soccer. Unlike many of us who simply bemoaned the lack of playing spaces, Daniel and Lisa assessed the situation, dreamed of a solution and put their funds, time and energy into realizing that dream. Steered by the Soccer Association of Homer, their philanthropy inspired and leveraged a range of resources and efforts from every sector of our community to build the South Peninsula Athletic & Recreation Center. From securing a site in June 2016, to the open house for the public the following April, it seems like the SPARC rose from the ground over night. Consider, however, the complexities of the project and the breadth of materials, equipment, expertise and work involved, and you’ll get a sense of the legions of persons and entities that were needed to complete it.

Eight months after the groundbreaking in August 2016, the SPARC became a reality. The videos and photos from those early months paint a portrait of a community at work, reminding us that philanthropy takes many forms. Businesses, trade associations, nonprofits, the U.S. Coast Guard, churches, government entities, families and individuals from the youngest tile painter to our amazing retirees contributed hours of work and hundreds of dollars worth of cash and in-kind donations, all with a smile.

We should be proud that our community built this facility, and ever grateful to Daniel and Lisa for dreaming that it could. We are working to properly honor our early supporters, an overdue task that was unfortunately sidelined in our excitement to put the building to use. Hopefully our supporters already realize how much their contribution has meant to the community, as evidenced by the many ways the SPARC has effected change.

Contrary to the oft quoted “If you build it, they will come,” realizing the potential of this new space and filling the SPARC with activity its first year was no simple feat. The commitment and tireless work of Bailey Lowney, who served as our director, as well as the energy and time of assistant Craig Shaw and countless volunteers kept the SPARC open to all — from early morning walkers to late night soccer players — seven days a week. Our first indoor playing season successfully hosted hundreds of people in all kinds of play, allowing the SPARC to promote health and happiness among community members throughout this past year.

I have been lucky to observe some of the many ways the contributions of our supporters are being paid forward exponentially at the SPARC: Smiling grandparents chase after squealing toddlers on tricycles in January, not worrying about icy footing or biting winds. A marching band rehearses their Winter Carnival tunes with zeal and flair. A woman dances in her wheelchair, an amazingly graceful and powerful art form she has been asked to teach to others. A group of middle school boys play their regular pick-up basketball game with no adult involvement, building their interpersonal skills as much as their muscles. Later, Flex School students laugh with a teacher in a spirited game of Dodgeball. A man learns to play pickleball as part of his regimen to deal with a degenerative nerve disease. A huge extended family holds a birthday celebration for two of its youngest members, with fun for all ages. Community members “Walk with a Doc,” a South Peninsula Hospital program that encourages healthy activity and conversations about wellness. Others build their resilience from injury or illness with early morning walks at their own pace. Individuals in recovery reignite their passion for an activity, filling a void they may feel on their new and healthy path.

In short, I have seen over and over how the SPARC builds community in Homer through healthy connections with each other and oneself. The future holds promise for even more connections (think Disco Skating Parties this summer). Let’s celebrate what our community has built, and keep imagining how it can create even more connectivity. Contact us at sparchomer.org for information about the summer schedule, volunteering or to share your vision of our community at play.

Ginny Espenshade is a SPARC Operating Committee member and SPARC volunteer.

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