GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport is trying to transform Gaston Point. That community still has scars from a time when drugs and gangs were all too common. On Thursday, more than 100 volunteers built a new Kaboom playground on a lot where trouble once lurked. Police hope the playground helps Gaston Point heal its old wounds.
A Kaboom staff member looked at his volunteers and barked instructions. "The object is to try to get that pipe in the hole without gouging the side of the hole," he explained while the volunteer team lifted a 40 pound slide off the ground.
Patricia Toles was one of the volunteers working on the Gaston Point Kaboom project. "It's time for a change," she boasted. Toles remembers when an oak tree on the Old Pass Road property provided shade for shady characters who hung out at a Gaston Point lounge. "I hope it turns into a beautiful area, instead of the area it used to be," she said.
Through the efforts of Gulfport, its police athletic league, and Kaboom, what was an eyesore is becoming a focal point for this community's rebirth. Gary Hollimon is the councilman for the area. "What we did we took the bad, flipped it, and turned it into something more positive for the children and the community," Hollimon said.
He was out of breath, tired from shoveling so much mulch into wheelbarrows. That much decorated the playground. It enhanced Rev. Felix Williams' view of the site. "It's wonderful. It's going to be wonderful for the kids and for the community," he said. Rev. Williams runs Grace Fellowship Church. It's directly across the street from the new playground.
When Gulfport police first took over the property, the police athletic league, or PAL, was going to renovate a vacant lounge, and turn the building into a child development headquarters. But, the plans changed. Saving the original building became impossible. So, the city bought several delapidated apartments surrounding this site, and Kaboom agreed to build a playground. "If it was in my neighborhood, I would be awfully proud," Gulfport Police Department spokesperson Sarah Lizana said. "I think the folks here are, too."
Once it's done, Gulfport will build a new PAL complex, giving Gaston Point something it didn't have in the 80s and 90s -- hope for its children. "Looking good. You all are the greatest," a Kaboom worker exclaimed.