But time has not been kind to his hometown, Alabama’s oldest black city. The city’s sales tax revenue has shrunk to a trickle over several decades, and the park has suffered because of it.
Thanks to more than $100,000 in grants received by the Hobson City Community and Economic Development Corporation — a nonprofit group formed in 2007 to help revitalize the community — the J.R. Striplin Park is once again drawing visitors. Broken and worn playground equipment has been replaced, and there’s no more standing water underneath the slides after a rain.
“We picked this park project because it’s something that’s so big people couldn’t ignore it,” said Stringer, president of the nonprofit. “We said, ‘let’s give this community something they can see, touch and feel, so that they will start to believe that things really can change.’”
More than 50 volunteers on Saturday helped install new playground equipment at the park, a project made possible by a $50,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama’s Susie Parker Stringfellow Health Fund.
Work will begin in late November on a 2,000-foot, crushed-stone walking trail circling the park, thanks to an additional $40,000 grant from the Daniel Foundation of Alabama. Eastman recently gave $20,000 towards park amenities like benches, garbage cans and picnic tables.
Further plans for the park call for an entertainment pavilion to hold concerts and other events, and about half of the $25,000 needed for its construction has been raised, Stringer said. An additional 1,800-square-foot multi-purpose pavilion is projected to cost around $75,000. Lastly, the nonprofit would like to install bathrooms at the park.
The person responsible for acquiring all those grants is Charity Richey Bentley.
She hopes to find some federal funding — possibly through state agencies like the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs — to help finish the park project.
“We’re not turning money away from anybody,” she said, adding that it’s best to get one large grant from one organization than to try to piecemeal many smaller grants together to fund a large project. That’s what she hopes to find in the coming months.
Standing atop the newly poured concrete sidewalk around the playground Wednesday, Stringer described the project as if it were a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel for the people of Hobson City.
“Let’s give them something that instills hope,” Stringer said. “… That’s the purpose of this park. To get people back to believing that things can change in Hobson City.”
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.