Volunteers needed for Candace Pickens Memorial Playground

site plan of candace pickens park

In its third round of awards from the Neighborhood Matching Grants program, a number of projects received funding from the City of Asheville that expand access to recreation and preserve culture. The Grace neighborhood in North Asheville received $5,000 towards the construction of Candace Pickens Playground, a unique project involving Grace Community Association, Asheville City Schools (ACS), and Buncombe County and the City of Asheville governments.


Community Built Park

jones park playgroundCommunity members partnered with Asheville Greenworks (then known as Quality Forward) in 1999 to design and build a playground on ACS property near the campus of Ira B. Jones Elementary School using money raised through fundraisers and by selling bricks and paver stones that would be placed around the park. More than 400 people donated time and materials for a “community build” to create Jones Park.

ACS removed the playground in 2021 due to safety and maintenance concerns. After community members offered to fully fund the construction of a new playground on the site (using no tax dollars), the school system, Buncombe County, and the City of Asheville entered into an interlocal agreement in which Buncombe County Recreation Services worked as the agent for construction activities including bidding and construction, Asheville Parks & Recreation (APR) will handle maintenance of the structure for 20 years, and ACS will continue to maintain the grounds inside and outside of the playground including mowing and trash removal since it remains school property.

After the interlocal agreement was approved, the school board voted to rename the site Candace Pickens Memorial Park after the young woman murdered in the park in 2016. Her son Zachaeus, then 3, survived the shooting but lost his left eye. Candace’s aunt, Jenny Pickens is a local painter serving as the arts and special features coordinator for the park.


Volunteers Needed

Much like the original playground, neighborhood organizers have scheduled a “community build” for October 4-8, 2023. According to their website, “We need skilled and unskilled workers to get this built, skilled is defined as knowing how to use a circular saw. We need help with childcare for volunteers working, serving food, art, and special features. We need team captains, both skilled and unskilled, to be on site every day managing the crews of volunteers with guidance from Playgrounds by Leathers supervisors.”

Volunteers are also needed for organization and logistics prior to the build days. Those interested in getting more involved should contact David Rogers at rodgersdl@gmail.com or (828) 545-9571.


Neighborhood Services

Asheville Neighborhood Services is dedicated to building strong, sustainable neighborhoods by supporting neighborhood-based organizations. Neighborhood registration formally recognizes organized groups in order to create a network of neighborhoods to facilitate communication between the city and ensure a productive flow of information and resources between residents, neighborhoods, and their city government.

Neighborhood Matching Grants help Asheville’s neighborhood-based organizations fund improvement projects by providing dollar-for-dollar matching grants of up to $5,000. At least half of a neighborhood’s match is made in volunteer hours while any combination of cash donations, in-kind donations, and volunteer hours can complete the remaining half. The program is operated by the Community Engagement Division of Communication and Public Engagement.