On a Saturday morning, as the Whitehaven High School marching band played and blue confetti filled the air, cheers erupted at a community park south of Memphis. Hundreds of area residents gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park, an event that marked both the completion of the public park’s total transformation and the inaugural opening of a BlueCross Healthy Place.
After the ribbon was cut, trumpets and drums played in the background as excited community members walked under an entrance archway to begin enjoying the new space. Mothers pushed their children on swings while other kids climbed on play structures. Neighbors chatted on park benches and families strolled along the walking path.
For Phil Sinclair, the day had extra meaning. The grandson of park namesake David Carnes, Sinclair says the revitalized space is a true testament to his grandfather’s legacy of love.
“When I look around, I can see the original park – back then it was our family home, it was a beautiful place. There were plenty of fruit and nut trees, everything we needed to support our lives. Now, it’s been reconstructed and will serve the community’s needs.”
BlueCross President & CEO JD Hickey, M.D., was moved as well. “Today is a new chapter for David Carnes Park, a site with a long, proud history. At BlueCross, we have a lot of good days serving the people of Tennessee, but today is truly special because we get to give this park back to the people of Whitehaven,” Hickey said.
A design driven by community feedback
Those neighbors had been dreaming of a better park for a long time. They had already been vocal about wanting improvements for their park, and their passion helped lead the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation to focus on David Carnes Park.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said, “When BlueCross and the City of Memphis developed this project, we all agreed that we needed to talk to the community and let them direct the facilities that would be here. And who knows a park better than the people who use it?”
BlueCross leaders visited Memphis in April 2018 to announce the David Carnes Park project — and more importantly, gather ideas from people who already used and loved the park. During the community meeting, neighbors looked at illustrations of potential features and shared their thoughts on the amenities they wanted. They cast their votes by placing stickers on their favorite features – like the pavilion or 40-yard dash.
Planning a space for people of all ages meant hearing from local kids, too. The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation and its build partner, Chattanooga-based PlayCore, hosted a planning day for students at Whitehaven Elementary School. The children got to draw their dream parks and see their ideas come to life through computer-aided design. Afterwards, they also voted on the elements they wanted to see in their new park.
Fourth grader Alayah Washington said, “I wanted to see a whole bunch of things I’ve never seen before in a park. Things like different types of slides, a see saw.”
Her classmate Addison Adair was also excited about influencing the design. “I thought it was cool to share our ideas because we got to be part of building a park,” she said.
A reimagined park for people of all ages and abilities
In total, the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation has invested $5.4 million in the David Carnes project , including $4.5 million for the construction of the space and $900,000 for its ongoing maintenance and care.
That investment has created a public park that everyone can enjoy. Features in the new 9-acre space, all chosen based on community input, include:
Memphis summers are hot and humid, and the new splash pad provides neighborhood residents with a place to cool off. It’s accessible for people of all ages and abilities, with activator buttons, misters, sprayers and other features at heights designed for visitors in wheelchairs. The Megasplash rises high above the splash pad and drops buckets of water on children playing below.
The new playground area has two sections: one for children ages 2 to 5 and one for ages 5 to 12. It features swings, slides and a variety of climbing structures, plus equipment, like the RoxAll See Saw, that is specially designed for children with mobility issues. The see saw features seats with high backs and side rails, plus a center saucer that allows visitors with special needs to transfer safely to and from wheelchairs or other mobility devices.
“My favorite part is the swings,” said seven-year-old Gabri’yel Milligan, who got to try out the new playground during the grand opening. “You can swing up high and go back low. I also like that people take turns.”
Additional accessible features include ramp access, ground-level play and front-reach capability, a soft rubber safety surface and an expression swing that allows for face-to-face swinging and encourages multi-generational use.
Whitehaven is home to active adults who asked for an improved walking trail. The BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park features a resurfaced walking path that winds throughout the park. The lower portion is lined with three nature-themed play pockets designed to encourage families to play and walk together. The upper portion of the trail has been enhanced with six fitness pods made of durable, weather-resistant materials. These pods provide a well-rounded workout, including aerobic, muscle, core, balance and flexibility exercises.
“This park means a lot to me and the community I live in. It’s for all members of the family, whether you’re old or young. I love it because I’m a senior and I can do my walking,” said Dorothy Burton, who attended the opening with her grandson, Mason.
Blacksmith play area and historical markers
It was important to honor Whitehaven’s rich history, as well as the legacy of David Carnes himself. Carnes was a blacksmith and one of the first African-American landowners in the area. One of the play structures along the walking trail is a small blacksmith shop with two historical markers providing information about the Whitehaven neighborhood and the life of David Carnes.
Sadie Hollowell-Charlton, grand-niece of David Carnes, attended the opening and spent some time at the blacksmith play structure with members of her family. “Our family is overjoyed and overwhelmed. We felt our uncle deserved such an honor – he would be thrilled if he knew this was the result of his donation of his land for this park,” she said.
Community gathering spaces
Community matters to Whitehaven residents, so the park has a total of three pavilions: one by the splash pad and one at the playground to allow parents to sit in the shade while their children play, plus a larger structure for parties and gatherings. The area surrounding the main pavilion has grills, picnic tables and water fountains.
Challenge course and 40-yard dash
The upper portion of the BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park caters to visitors looking for more intense physical activity. It features a challenge course with nine obstacles and a precision timing system. Community members can climb and race their way through the course and track their progress as they improve their times.
Next to the course is a timed 40-yard dash that allows friends and family members of all ages to compete against one another for the best time.
Rather than a space designed for just one sport, like baseball or basketball, residents asked for a multipurpose field. The BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park has an artificial turf field that can be used for a variety of youth activities and sports practices. There is a set of bleachers on the side so parents and other spectators can watch.
Councilwoman Patrice Robinson has high hopes for how the neighbors in her district will use this new community space. “We have activities for children, senior citizens and our youth. This is a park for everyone. I see people walking in the morning, children enjoying the splash pad, and even our seniors coming here to enjoy the fresh air. It’s awesome that we can do this right here in the heart of Whitehaven.”
A partnership for Whitehaven
In the end, the BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park was a team effort and a labor of love on behalf of the people of Whitehaven. Project partners came together, and despite more than 160 construction days lost to rain, the park was completed for residents to enjoy before the summer ends.
Everyone got involved because they care about the Whitehaven community. Pastor Orlester Johnson opened the doors of Greater Faith Tabernacle Ministries for multiple events, including the announcement and the grand opening. Local subcontractors worked on landscaping, plumbing and electrical. Dr. Earnestine Jenkins of the University of Memphis taught the project team about David Carnes and the neighborhood’s history.
In April, TeamBlue volunteers joined Whitehaven High School students to work on construction projects at the park. “I grew up in this community, and it’s special for me to be a part of this. I can tell my children, ‘Dad was a part of building this up,’” said BlueCross marketing support assistant and volunteer Joseph Jones.
At the grand opening, laughter filled the playground, children got soaked in the splash pad, and fathers raced sons on the 40-yard dash. It was clear everyone’s hard work had paid off.
“BlueCross, the City of Memphis and the Whitehaven neighborhood have come together with a fantastic result. The smiles on these kids’ faces say it all – they’re thrilled to be here. It just goes to show you when people come together and work toward a common goal, things can happen,” said Mayor Strickland.
Whitehaven resident Joyce Milligan echoed that sentiment. “This is more than I ever expected. There’s something for everyone to do – I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m very thankful and appreciative, and I want to thank BlueCross for thinking of the community. You don’t know what you’ve done for us today.”
BlueCross Healthy Places beyond Memphis
While the David Carnes Park project shows the possibilities of a BlueCross Healthy Place, each space will be tailored to the area it serves.
“BlueCross Healthy Places really are custom to the community’s requests,” said Scott Wilson, BlueCross director of community relations. “We will fund the project that works for that community.”
Strong communities are built on strong relationships, so BlueCross Healthy Places are designed to help neighbors spend time together while enjoying healthy activities. The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation will fund projects in communities of all sizes across the state.
There are three other BlueCross Healthy Place projects in development, one in the town of Huntland, one at the Miracle Field complex in Kingsport, and one in the Highland Park neighborhood of Chattanooga. And another project will be announced this fall.The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation is accepting proposals for 2020 BlueCross Healthy Place projects throughout the month of August.