Spring is coming. Maybe not soon enough, but it is coming. I promise. Do you think you might find yourself looking for an affordable outdoor outing when the weather gets nice? If so, please allow me to make a suggestion.
We are lucky in Tyler to have so many beautiful locations, but I would like to draw your attention to the Children’s Park of Tyler. It is located at the intersection of S. Broadway and Dobbs St. I have driven past it many times, but after being asked to write about its upcoming expansion, I spent some time there.
The park is owned by the City of Tyler, so it is a public facility, and maintained by the city. Its peaceful beauty is infectious, and it is a perfect setting for engagement and graduation photos. In fact, students have been known to use the space for their photography projects. People come here for weddings, birthdays, picnics, quiet time, reading, and most importantly, to celebrate the lives of all children.
If you do not know the story behind the park, you might be surprised to find out that a story which starts out so unbelievably sad could turn into something so beautiful and inspirational. Jennifer Carson lost her son Braden only hours before he should have been born. She sensed that something was wrong, but by the time she got to the hospital, it was too late.
Her tragic loss and healing process inspired her to found the Children Are a Gift Foundation (CAGF), which is responsible for building the park. Jennifer was kind enough to invite me into her home to discuss the park’s expansion, as well as the foundation’s mission.
The landscaping of the original park is stunning. It includes several statues, flower gardens, a butterfly garden, two waterfalls, a pond, rocked paths, and many other features. You may remember the story of Megan Leann Holden, who was abducted from a Wal-Mart parking lot in 2005. An anonymous donor funded one of the waterfalls in her honor. It is called Megan’s Falls.
The CAGF purchased the land after making sure that the city would receive it as a gift. When the original park was completed in 2004, the foundation donated it to the City of Tyler.
After the original park was completed, the people involved in the foundation realized that they had not anticipated all of the reasons that people would use the park. Many people wanted to have weddings and other large events at the park, but there was no indoor facility to accommodate large groups, nor was there a large, flat surface on which to place chairs.
When Carson’s mother-in-law was in the hospital, she visited the park, and realized that there was no secluded section of the park for a more intimate experience. She envisioned a space for meeting the needs of someone seeking a quiet place to spend their time.
The planned expansion includes a prayer and meditation garden, as well as facilities for large groups. There will be an additional bridge over the water flowing through the park, and more rock paths.
The house on the property is called Alison’s House in memory of Alison Joy Baker, the daughter of C.C. and Brenda Baker. The foundation has used it for office space in the past, but it has been remodeled to accommodate groups. A deck is being built behind the house for outdoor events, and there will also be a large lawn space leading down to the water. Bathroom facilities are also being constructed.
The lawn space will be able to accommodate 300 people, and roughly 25 people can be seated inside Alison’s House, although the deck extends that number to about 80. This should meet the needs of anyone looking to host a wedding, birthday party, business lunch, and more.
The CAGF has also partnered with the Women’s Building, located on the other side of S. Broadway, to allow for outdoor weddings and an additional venue for large receptions. If the weather does not cooperate for outdoor weddings, they can be moved across the street as well.
It should be noted that the spaces can be rented, but the remaining details are the responsibility of those hosting each event. Beer and wine will be allowed at event spaces, but not in the main park area. If beer and wine are served, the host will be required to provide a security guard. The main park is, after all, primarily a place devoted to children.
The house, deck, and lawn areas must be rented for events. While the main park area is free to the public, if you want priority for your function, you should go ahead and rent the space. Once the expansion project is completed, several renting options will be available.
The CAFG has raised $800,000 to cover the cost of the expansion. The City of Tyler has donated $127,500 to the project, and will maintain the property upon completion. The foundation will retain ownership of Alison’s House, and the city will own everything else. In other words, the CAGF will maintain the inside of the house, and the City of Tyler will maintain everything on the outside.
The CAGF hosts three annual events in the park. The Teddy Bear picnic is held in April (April 19th this year). Families are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch. Children are invited to bring their favorite teddy bears to the event. Several booths are set up for things like face painting, and flower planting. There is no playground equipment, but children have the opportunity to explore and discover the joy of playing in nature. There is no cost to attend the picnic, but $1 donations are appreciated.
The Day of Remembrance is held in October. This event is for anyone who has lost a child. There are usually about 100 children represented with approximately 300-350 people in attendance. The foundation also hosts a Christmas event.
Another integral part of the foundation is Glory Babies, which is a support group for those who have lost an infant during pregnancy, or within the first year of its life. The group provides an opportunity for people to share their stories, and express their feelings. The group meets monthly at Alison’s House. The CAGF provides Glory Babies brochures to doctors and funeral homes in the area.
There are many opportunities to support the park and help fund the maintenance and expansion.. Wherever you see a name in the park, a donation has been made. In addition to being engraved into larger items, stones located along the rock paths are also etched with names. There are over 500 names located throughout the park, but not all of the names represent children who have died. The park celebrates the lives of all children, too. You can have a child’s name put on a stone for a $250 donation.
Other opportunities include a tree planting with a bronze plaque for a $2500 donation, or you can become a Friend of the Park ($100 – $999), a Major Donor ($1000 or above), or a Founding Father ($100, $200, or $300). This echoes the donation drive for Phase 1 of the park, which included Founding Mothers instead of Founding Fathers.
Donor’s names will be listed on new plaques in the park, and Founding Fathers’ names will be listed as individuals. A Friend of the Park could be listed as an individual, a couple, a business, or anything the donor wants it to be, and Major Donors can be listed as they wish.
The CAGF is a non-profit organization that does business as the Children’s Park of Tyler. The reason for this is to avoid confusion. The foundation has no connection to the Children Are a Gift segment on CBS 19 (KYTX).
MHS Planning and Design, owned by Mark Spencer, has done all of the landscaping for the park. Spencer has been involved in the project from the beginning. After learning what the space was to be used for, he hit the ground running, and the foundation could not be more pleased with the results. Among other things, the park was designed as a place for taking portraits. CAGF receives Christmas cards from people who had their photos taken in the park, and they see business pictures with the park as a backdrop in magazines.
The Children Are a Gift Foundation is a faith-based, non-profit organization, though it is not affiliated with any particular church. For more information, please visit their website at www.childrensparktyler.com.