In 2008, fire engulfed Holly Square, a neighborhood shopping center in northeast Park Hill. The result of gang-related arson, the fire brought further distress to an area already in turmoil. Enter the Prodigal Son Initiative, a nonprofit led by former gang member Terrance Roberts, who worked with the Piton Foundation and other nonprofits to build two basketball courts and a futsal (mini soccer) court to reclaim the site for the community. The Holly Peace Courts were built to bring a positive influence to the neighborhood, a place where kids could be kids, away from the strife of the gang activity surrounding them.
The reclamation of Holly Square continued, furthered by the purchase of the site in 2009 by the Urban Land Conservancy. They built a Boys and Girls Club and a library at Holly Square, and in 2013 plans to build an elementary school, Roots Elementary, were underway. The Holly Peace Courts needed to make way for the school.
Kurt Dennis of McAuliffe International School; Cindy Eastman, McAuliffe at Smiley Foundation board member; and Haroun Cowans of the nonprofit Impact Empowerment Group (IEG), the successor to Prodigal Son, worked together to relocate the courts. “We wanted to keep the courts in the neighborhood so we could continue to have a safe place for kids to play,” said Eastman. Keeping them in Park Hill, as opposed to donating them elsewhere, followed the intent of The Piton Foundation and the mission of IEG, which is a gang outreach organization.
Beginning in November of 2015, McAuliffe and IEG brought in a crew to pull up the courts so school construction could begin. The courts sat in storage until the spring of 2016, when the two basketball courts were installed at McAuliffe’s Smiley campus. IEG donated a set of basketball hoops and the McAuliffe Foundation purchased another set, so now “there are two complete, full basketball courts available at McAuliffe,” said Eastman.
The futsal court installation has just been finished at McAuliffe, which involved pulling up grass, leveling the field, pouring road base, and installing a border. IEG donated two goals for the court, and volunteers from McAuliffe and the neighborhood installed the surface.
Bob Boyle, a coach and founder of Soccer Electric and 303Futsal, helped install the original courts at Holly Square and is excited to see them continue to serve the community at McAuliffe. “It’s very important that it’s accessible to everyone, not just pay to play. We offer scholarships, financial assistance and host free pick-up games. Having the courts on the Smiley campus is great,” said Boyle.
Cowans says he is “really pleased with the partnership with McAuliffe. The courts had a profound impact at Holly Square,” and he is looking forward to hosting tournaments and games for local youth in the spring and early summer, to bring the community together and introduce young people to new activities.
McAuliffe is the first school in Denver to launch a futsal club for its students, and Boyle credits the persistence of Dennis and Eastman with making the project happen. The school raised the money to install and equip the courts and continues to keep them maintained. While their students make use of them now, McAuliffe hopes that more community organizations will reach out to book the courts for tournaments and games.