Walk up to the Whitehaven Kroger and you’re likely to see more than potted plants and shopping carts. Most days, the parking lot is full of people — neighbors shaking hands, friends slapping backs, families catching up and making plans for the weekend. It’s been this way for years, says BlueCross marketing support assistant Joseph Jones, and it’s one of many reasons he’s lived in Whitehaven most of his life.
“I went to high school nearby, my daughter went to school a few blocks from here, and my son went to middle school a few blocks from that,” says Joseph. “Kroger is right here in the middle, so it’s where we catch up on our way to a football game, or meet up after church.”
“Whitehaven just feels like family.”
While Joseph and his neighbors have turned this local store into a place their community can come together, that was never its true purpose. But just around the corner you’ll find a place with a different story.
Something old into something new
Two blocks away sits David Carnes Park, with a small playground and walking trails. Joseph has brought his kids here often since moving back to Memphis in 2008 after military tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. The day we visited Joseph was there, but he wasn’t playing — he was hard at work alongside other TeamBlue colleagues and Whitehaven High School students building benches, constructing exercise equipment and putting the finishing touches on the huge playground that anchors the brand new BlueCross Healthy Place.
The $5.4 million project opens this summer as part of a BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation program to create and improve public spaces across Tennessee. The Memphis location will be the first in the state — something Joseph’s been looking forward to since day one.
“My next-door neighbor is on the Memphis City Council, so when I saw discussions about the BlueCross Healthy Place come across my social media stream last year, I just felt pure excitement,” he says, breaking into a smile. “I knew it was going to mean so much to all of us in Whitehaven. We are ready to see something new.”
Creating a BlueCross Healthy Place
The $5.4 million allocated to the park includes a $4.5 million investment in new construction but also $900,000 for maintenance. Ongoing investment, Joseph says, is something his community has been waiting on. Over the next five years, Kroger plans to renovate its Whitehaven store, and the Elvis Presley Boulevard improvement project is set to revitalize one of the city’s most traveled yet least walkable roads. Joseph feels like his tight-knit community is starting to get the attention it deserves, and he’s thrilled the BlueCross Healthy Place is leading the way.
“The blacksmith area is really nice to see,” says Joseph, pointing to a playhouse designed like a blacksmith shop to pay tribute to the park’s namesake, David Carnes, one of Whitehaven’s first businessmen and one of the first African-Americans to purchase property here. “I’m also really excited about the 40-yard dash.
“And honestly? I want to get on that seesaw! For me, a seesaw was just a big metal bar going across, so this is a whole new thing.”
Joseph is describing the RoxAll See Saw, which can accommodate users of all abilities and ages. It’s one of many design elements here that begs passersby to climb on and play — with friends, family or neighbors they may not yet know.
That was exactly the idea of a place like this. Back in April 2018 when BlueCross asked Whitehaven neighbors what they wanted to see in the park, they requested a walking path, fitness area and splash pad, all of which are included in the park. But most of all they asked for a place where neighbors can come together. Seeing the park’s progress — and knowing his Whitehaven neighbors and BlueCross colleagues pitched in — is something Joseph is proud of.
“The Whitehaven community is very tight, so this BlueCross Healthy Place means so much to us, and to Memphis,” says Joseph.
“We’re excited that our city has so many positive things to come out and see. And we’re excited that the newest one is right here in Whitehaven.”