This neighborhood service group puts its money where its mouth is

 

 

By mid-July, children will be scampering through mini geysers and aiming squirt cannons at each other on a new “sprayground” at the Lake Highlands North Recreation Center .

 

And for this, the community can thank the Lake Highlands Junior Women’s League, says Joan Walne, who represents our neighborhood on the Dallas Park and Recreation Board.

 

“They have been in existence for barely a year and have already changed the face of our community,” Walne says.

 

The league formed last fall as a group of 20- and 30-something women who wanted to “make an immediate impact” on the community “in measurable ways where we could see a difference,” says league president Meredith Mosley.

 

Their first big event was last April’s Run the Highlands fun run, and the group pitched it to sponsors as a fundraiser for beautification projects, says run co-chair Julie Johnson. After netting more than $11,000, the league’s philanthropy committee decided to research a way to spend the money meaningfully.

 

Walne says she encouraged the league to think big. So when philanthropy committee co-chair Lisetta Layer mentioned how nice it would be to have a sprayground in Lake Highlands similar to ones in Richardson or Allen, Walne looked into the possibility.

 

“She saw that it was something the city is doing in other places, and wondered why couldn’t it become a reality in Lake Highlands,” says philanthropy committee co-chair Julie Peek.

 

The women discovered that Dallas Park and Recreation Department had tentative plans to build a new playground in Lake Highlands, but it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon — that is, until the Junior Women’s League entered the picture, pressing for an expedited timetable and a sprayground to boot.

 

“We’re the ones with families driving out to all these places to use these things, and it was like, ‘You know, we need one here,’ ” Johnson says. “I think the community was starving for something like this to showcase our neighborhood.”

 

Group members asked the park department what it would take to make it happen, Mosley says, and found that $455,000 in bond money voters approved in 2003 could be used for construction. A partnership formed, with the league agreeing to use its 2005 and 2006 fun run proceeds for amenities that city funds wouldn’t cover — like a spongier sprayground surface and shaded areas where parents can sit and watch their children.

 

Walne calls the group the “impetus” that propelled the park department to jump through hoops and expedite the project, “because they know that young girls aren’t patient.”

 

And group members are heaping just as much praise on Walne, calling her a “mover and shaker” and a “huge asset.” It’s a collaborative effort, Mosley says.

 

“The best of all worlds just came together miraculously,” Walne says.

 

The junior league hopes other Lake Highlands groups will jump on the bandwagon to revitalize the recreation center. By the time contestants jog past the center during April’s fun run (which they hope will more than double last year’s proceeds), sprayground construction will be underway.