Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Compromise prescription for success

        In their time, the mighty twin oaks on a playfield in the heart of Avondale have seen their share of games. Baseball. Basketball. Football. Hide-and-go-seek. Recently, they witnessed a contest of wills and words over where to put a playground slated to be built July 27.

        The playground will feature modern, user-friendly equipment designed to reduce injuries to little kids.

        Avondale needs safety-conscious facilities. In 1999, the neighborhood ranked third among Hamilton County communities with the most childhood injuries.

        Three years later, adults struggling over where to put the well-cushioned playground, split into two well-meaning teams: the Injury-Free Coalition for Kids at Children's Hospital Medical Center versus the Avondale Warriors, the Firstar Boys & Girls Club's football teams.

        How their differences were resolved provides lessons in speaking out and listening.

        The coalition, armed with the know-how and clout of the hospital's doctors and staff, as well as the blessings of the Avondale Community Council, proposed putting the playground at the field's northwest corner.

        That location, while handicapped accessible, sits next to a busy intersection. Kids, eager for fun or running for home, could easily dart into the street.

        A wooden wall would separate the playground from an adjoining baseball diamond. The wall could have threatened the roots of one of the twin oaks, as well as the bones of someone running into the partition.

        Sounds like a corner that a coalition named “Injury Free” would want to avoid.

        That's what Willie Jones thinks. He knows the playfield. He's lived in Avondale 30 of his 41 years. He's a dad and president of the Warriors, one of the playfield's best customers.

        Willie works as a Cincinnati firefighter. On and off the job he regularly speaks with children about playing safe.

        He pointed out the site's shortcomings to the coalition. He recommended an alternative location far from the intersection.

        Willie also noted the proposed site would disrupt the Warriors' football practice. The program's 350 players and 100 cheerleaders would not fit on the reconfigured playfield.

        Some children would be forced to practice elsewhere. Transportation would become an issue. Kids -- many at risk of slipping into lives of emptiness -- would drop out.

        “Bottom line,” Willie told me, “I don't want to lose any kids.”

        The coalition agrees. It just took some persuading.

        For days after Willie made his concerns known, the plans remained unchanged. Then, he informed coalition members the Warriors might talk to the press. Parents and players just might picket the July 27 event.

        Overnight, the site changed.

        “We have bowed to popular opinion, which is not always the wise thing to do,” said Gayle Harden-Renfro, the hospital's community coordinator.

        Standing by an entrance to the playfield, she said of the new design: “We'll make the best of the space. It's something special for the kids.”

        Willie Jones stood nearby. He took in every word. But he did not take a victory lap around the playfield.

        “It's not about winning,” he said after the community coordinator left. “It's about coming to a mutual compromise on something that is wonderful and exciting for the kids.”

        Lessons to be learned from this story are twofold:

        Speak out about what ails your community.

        Listen carefully to all the people in the community before formulating a specific treatment.

        That way no one will end up with a prescription that cures the disease but kills the patient.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at cradel@enquirer.com; 768-8379; fax 768-8340. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/radel


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