This weekend, I met a true coaching legend. I was not at a Hornets game or at the NCAA tournament, but at a park in the upper 9th ward. For over twenty years, this coach had been volunteering his time to mentor and coach kids in Sampson Park. When I told him I was running for Mayor, his eyes lit up. He immediately mapped the best way for a new leader to revamp the New Orleans Recreation Departmen (NORD). He provided practical solutions to simple problems. The lights at Sampson Park do not work, and parents park their cars around the field with the headlights on to provide lighting for children playing football, basketball and baseball. All he wanted was the lights on. He also said that NORD won’t give answers to basic questions about uniforms and travel for the Sampson teams. While he was telling me his frustrations, one of his young athletes, pulled him aside, “Coach, are we going to Indiana?” His face grimaced in anguish, “I’ll be right with you son.” When the kid walked away, he told me that NORD had promised his team a trip to Indiana to compete in a basketball tournament, only to revoke the offer a few weeks later. He had yet to tell the kids. Throughout his story, he kept excusing NORD, “I know they don’t have much money.”
Imagine his disgust when he sees Lee Zurik’s report on WWL Channel 4 news tonight. Zurik will report that New Orleans City government has failed to spend $14 million allocated in 2006 by FEMA to repair New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) facilities. Like me, the Coach believes that the key to ending teen violence in New Orleans is investing in New Orleans teenagers. He nodded in agreement when I told him that we couldn’t arrest our way out of New Orleans’ high murder rate.
City leaders have their priorities wrong. On Feburary 9th, Mayor Nagin & Sheriff Gusman reopened Orleans Parish Prison, funded by $20 million dollars of federal and local money. The City budgeted only $4.6 million dollars to fund teen recreation programs in 2009.
Our City leaders believe they can arrest their way out of our crime issue, instead of providing opportunities for our teens.NORD’s 2008 budget was $4.5 million, and the city experienced 179 murders last year. In comparison, Baton Rouge’s Recreation and Park Commission 2008 budget was just shy of $40 million, and the city only had 58 murders. There is a clear correlation between quality investment in teen recreation and low crime.
Every citizen should write Mayor Nagin and the Council today and demand that they expend the $14 million and make NORD facilities available for all New Orleans teenagers, no matter what neighborhood they are from.
Yes! And conveniently, there is a hearing about NORD tomorrow on Council's agenda. Make sure to watch Lee's report tonight, I'll provide a link once it becomes available. (UPDATE: And here it is)
The Mayor's communications team is quick on the draw, they issued this presser toward the end of the business day today.
NORD COMPLETES MONTH OF VOLUNTEERISM
The Rehabilitation of Parks and Playgrounds Remain A Priority in
City's Recovery Efforts
This weekend, the New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) will complete a month of volunteer efforts to clean and restore the City's baseball fields in time for the season kick off. The final clean-up event will take place on Saturday, March 28th at Bodenger Playground located 3400 Kansas Street in Algiers. The Boy Scouts of America, New Orleans Chapter, will restore the field from 9a.m.until noon.
(Though the event in Algiers is just one of the projects, I find it quite interesting that we're using Spring Break volunteers to clean up a baseball field that didn't flood during Katrina. I don't think volunteers are coming down here to take the city's self-inflicted Pre-K deferred maintenance problems. But whatever I like baseball fields.)
Bolstering NORD - giving it legitimate funding and making it accountable - seems to me to be an efficient way to directly invest in this city's traumatized Post-Katrina generation. Our next Mayor needs to bring us back to the industrialized world in terms of social services. Our city's kids deserve a robust recreation department. But it won't be easy to make it work.