Martin Park officials break ground on Webster Park near Downtown Fresno. Photo by Ben Hensley.

published on September 22, 2022 - 2:35 PM
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Organizers with Martin Park Inc. broke ground Wednesday on their newest site, Webster Park, next door to Executive Director Oscar Rodriguez’s childhood home.

Martin Park, a community organization that aims to provide a safe, Christian-centered, safe location for children in historically neglected neighborhoods, hopes its new location can provide a safe refuge for children in the Webster community located near the interchange between Highway 180 and Highway 41.

The park, located at 2834 E. Tyler Ave, just up the street from Webster Elementary School, hopes to be open within six months according to Matthew Dildine, chairman of the Martin Park Board of Directors and CEO of the Fresno Rescue Mission.

Abused from a young age in the home adjacent to the park’s future location, Rodriguez hopes the park will not only be a place for safety, but also for spiritual and emotional change in the youth that will one day make use of it.

“Martin Park started off with a prayer and books,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been entrusted to be part of the change.”

Rodriguez played a key role in opening the first Martin Park location in the Lowell Community for children to come and play. Eventually the children who began to appear showed up hungry, needing help and safety.

“From that, what was born was Martin Park,” said Dildine. “Martin Park exists to create these parks with a heart; more than just monkey bars, more than just playgrounds, it’s really the embodiment of a friend in a property.”

Martin Park now supports youth programs, sporting events, after school tutoring programs and more beneficial programs for children.

Webster park, according to Dildine, was first thought up about eight years ago between Dildine and Rodriguez.

“Oscar is the hardest working guy in Fresno, hands down,” Dildine said.

On the property of the house stands a tree – a tree that holds a special, albeit very bleak, memory for Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’s father and grandfather used to insist that Rodriguez take limbs off the tree to beat him with. Dildine described the tree as old and ruined prior to Martin Park’s intervention.

But when Martin Park started operating at what would become the future location of the park, Rodriguez had different plans for it.

“When we started doing this we had the option of tearing down that tree,” Dildine said. “Oscar said ‘No. God created that tree for shade. Let’s allow that tree to be what it was created for.’”

Dildine said the organization pruned the tree and nursed it back to health.

“And that’s the embodiment of what Martin Park does,” Dildine added. “We’re taking this lot that is nothing in this elbow [of the neighborhood] and creating it for what it’s supposed to be — Martin Park.”

The park will be home to a playground, covered basketball courts, and a splash zone, as well as benches and trees providing shade. It will also be home to an airconditioned multi use building.

The original site of Martin Park, located in the heart of the Lowell Neighborhood near Downtown, already offers after-school tutoring services, group activities, teenage youth programs and more options in a safe environment.

The Webster location hopes to extend that reach further to affect the lives of even more youth in a positive way.

Rodriguez hopes that the new park will continue to grow the body of the community into a safer, more welcoming place, living up to Martin Park’s slogan — “parks with a heart.”

“When we say that we’re a park with a heart, it’s to make the body start working,” Rodriguez said.

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