Second Ward, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood on the East End of Houston, has been quickly gentrifying in recent months as private development moves into the neighborhood, taking advantage of the area’s close proximity to downtown and neighborhoods on the City’s near East side that have already become gentrified. As the community transforms, long-time residents are seeking to protect their neighborhood’s identity. Representing a group of residents, Lone Star Legal Aid’s Community Advocacy Team has been helping them to become more effective advocates for their neighborhood to protect its culture and identity.

When they first approached Lone Star Legal Aid for help in formalizing their group’s structure, The Friends of Eastwood Park was an informal coalition of residents with a common love for skateboarding. Ranging in age from teenagers to 60+ seniors, this group of skaters and skater-enthusiasts came together to combat the deterioration of their community and reduce juvenile delinquency by renovating and improving the public skate park and surrounding park of their namesake, Eastwood Park.

“Eastwood Park is a special place,” says Manny Martinez. “It’s an amalgamation of all different ages and walks of life – there’s tons of stories that can be told about it. I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever made in my life at that skate park. We all have different backgrounds, different troubles, different problems – but through skateboarding, I think that we can all come together and make the area a better place.”

Members of the group were concerned that their voices would not be heard because of their demographics (young, skaters, non-political, low-income, people of color) – and they wanted to have a say in the City of Houston’s and Houston Parks and Recreation Department’s Master Plans to renovate the park – plans which they feared would mean the end of their beloved skate park.

The Friends of Eastwood Park first met with LSLA Community Advocacy attorney Ashea Jones, UH intern with LSLA’s EDI team Katherine Zellner and the community organization BakerRipley six months ago in order to begin building a leadership team. LSLA assisted the group in developing a structure and organization by helping them draft their very own organizational bylaws and providing training to the group’s leaders on Robert’s Rules of Order. Attorney Jones then filed paperwork with the Texas Secretary of State and the IRS in order to obtain non-profit tax exempt status for the group. In addition, LSLA created a Non-Profit Toolkit to help the group sustain their organization and provided training on good financial health, pointing out the potential liabilities that come with non-profit status. 

Following their newly obtained non-profit status, Friends of Eastwood Park quickly became engaged in the City’s discussion of plans for the neighborhood park. On June 20, 2019, the group was recognized by Mayor Turner in a Press Conference on Complete Communities held at Eastwood Park.  The Mayor gave a shout-out to the group in his remarks on the park’s improvements, noting the debut of new skate park ramps, “thanks to the Friends of Eastwood Park non-profit organization.”  The Houston Parks and Recreation Department and neighborhood TIRZ have also recently committed to including Friends of Eastwood Park in the planning and design of the park’s Master Plan, providing a new platform for the group to give voice to their community. 

Jamaur Barnes, Community Engagement Manager with BakerRipley, has been excited to see the group’s development. “The Friends of Eastwood Park have so much drive, tenacity, and passion! It’s such a heart-touching honor that this group is not only allowing BakerRipley to Community Engineer train them, but they are also allowing us to mentor them in the process of becoming a non-profit organization. From the President to the General Body, each member contributes something different; something that I feel resonates with our mission here at BakerRipley.” 

Lone Star Legal Aid’s Ashea Jones agrees. “I’m just excited about what the group is going to do in the future, and to see them continue to work with the Parks Department and the TIRZ to develop the park’s Master Plan for the community to be inclusive of the skaters, and inclusive of the local residents that have been active supporters of the park,” said Jones.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, cayala@lonestarlegal.org.