COMMUNITY GEMS: Dayton volunteers revitalize playground

DeWeese-Ridgecrest group restore park for neighborhood children

A park and playground in the DeWeese-Ridgecrest neighborhood has been revitalized for a new generation of kids thanks to a small group of parents who dreamed of a space for neighbors to come together.

“It was so terrible,” Julie Arias said of the former Ridgecrest Park playground on Pinecrest Drive. “It was seriously just so bad and broken.”

So she and four others in the neighborhood formed the DeWeese-Ridgecrest Youth Ambassadors, a nonprofit group founded in 2019 to restore the park. The new playground opened in fall 2021.

She guessed that the park’s former sun-bleached plastic and metal playground equipment had been installed decades ago.

“There were a lot of broken edges to it, so it was very unsafe,” she said.

The 2019 tornados also took its toll on the neighborhood and the park. There was a direct hit a block from the park in one direction, and two blocks in another direction, Arias said. Many of the park’s trees sustained damage, with limbs falling and hitting the picnic shelter there.

Restoring the park also honors its significance. Baseball legend Mike Schmidt was born in the neighborhood, living near Arias’ mother years ago.

“He asked all of the kids to pitch to him in this park,” Arias said.

Pat Eller nominated Arias and her neighborhood friends as Dayton Daily News Community Gems for their efforts to improve the playground. Eller, who lives east of Brookville and has known Arias for about a decade, lauded the group for making the space safe again for children.

Their work is not only an inspiration, but also an example of the change that can be made by banding together with others who are like-minded.

“Joining with your neighbors – it’s amazing what can take place,” Eller said.

The DeWeese-Ridgecrest Youth Ambassadors successfully advocated for levy dollars earmarked for new playgrounds to be used at Ridgecrest Park, and the group has applied for grants to be used for further improvements, such as the flower beds that were planted near the park’s entrance.

“We’re a small group of committed individuals, and it feels good to get these things accomplished,” Arias said.

Partnering with the DeWeese-Ridgecrest Civic Association, the two groups also have converted a cracked basketball court into two pickleball courts.

Arias, 42, grew up in Wilmington, and she and her husband purchased their first home in the DeWeese-Ridgecrest neighborhood in 2008, the same year their oldest child was born.

Arias’ mother, who grew up in the neighborhood, has visited the restored park and has enjoyed reminiscing with some of the long-time residents at events hosted there, said Arias, who also is the volunteer services and community engagement director at Ronald McDonald House Charities Dayton.

The park has hosted Easter and Halloween events that have been well-attended, Arias said. The playground that was faded and unsafe when her oldest daughter was born is now enjoyed by both of her children, Clara, 14, and Susana, 8.

“I’ve met a number of families just being at the playground with my kids,” Arias said.

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