It’s truly amazing what a group of citizens can do when they partner up on something they care about – even if it’s something as simple as installing lights at outdoor basketball courts.
Started by Alexandria, Virginia natives Chris Denby, Bruce Falk and Mike Porterfield, community group Light It UP! (LIU) has gained enough support to partner with the City of Alexandria to provide lights at the basketball courts at Potomac Yard Park. Through fundraising efforts in the area, the group’s connections with Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and councilman John Taylor Chapman, and sheer patience and determination, this $150,000 project has become a reality.
In 2016, the trio noticed there was inequity at the brand-new facilities at Potomac Yard, whether they were just passing by or in Porterfield’s case, picking up his son from the park just after dusk. There were lights on the tennis courts but not on the basketball courts. His son was shooting baskets in pitch black, but light was coming from the tennis courts, which didn’t seem right to him.
“As I’m waiting for him, I’m texting [Mayor] Wilson because we all know he’s dialed in,” Porterfield says. “He responded saying, ‘You’re a little late to the party; there’s already two guys [Falk and Denby] who are on it.’”
Mayor Wilson, along with the Alexandria City Council, supported the creation of a public-private partnership to help fund the new project, giving the guys the freedom to really make it happen.
“From there, Mike was a huge help, spurring us along with connections, energy and fundraising expertise that Bruce and I didn’t have prior to this,” Denby says. “We also took advantage of a lot of the opportunities [nonprofit] ACT for Alexandria provided to get well-known in the community. Their fundraising efforts were great and gave us some more clout.”
ACT for Alexandria’s annual Spring2ACTion event aims to strengthen the local community as a “giving day” to support all the nonprofits doing incredible work locally, which benefited LIU’s progress as well.
“We got some camera time, and experienced good camaraderie with people organizing Alexandria-specific events,” Falk says. “John and Justin came out to dunk on our mini-hoop; those things also lead to productive, positive photo ops that we can leverage on Facebook and elsewhere – things that are individually small but amplify one another.”
LIU is all about extending the use of the basketball courts and their overall time availability, but there’s also increased opportunities for local rec leagues and others that might be able to take advantage of the courts in a structured way “that’s beneficial to specific organizations and the city in terms of revenue and maintenance,” Falk says. “We think of it as a positive feedback loop.”
Of course, only time will tell the long-term impact LIU will make, but it’s clear the project is creating opportunities for the overall community.
“The legacy of what this could be [includes] more kids who are staying occupied, doing healthy activities and not hanging out playing video games when the weather is good,” Denby says. “You’ll get adults that are staying fit, staying happy and they’re outside being good citizens for good health. There’s no measure for that, but you know that it’s going to be the result.”
Falk touches on an invisible benefit for people that have been going by Potomac Yard, seeing lights from the tennis courts and darkness on the basketball courts.
“For people inclined to make use of the basketball courts, there was an implicit message that they are somehow less important, or their needs are somehow less important,” he says. “Now that the lights are going up, we are showing the city values everybody equally.”
Not only that, the usage of the courts will increase significantly, raising an excellent point about the numbers of the sport.
“In basketball, you’re going to get at least 10 people playing and sometimes more,” Falk says.
Denby adds, “There’s always someone saying, ‘I got next game.’ The force multiplier is huge. You’re rotating through [players] on a good day.”
The lights have been ordered by the City of Alexandria and the LIU team is waiting eagerly for the installation date. Signage is being finalized and funds are completely transferred. Now all that’s left to do is host the unveiling later this spring.
“The unveiling should be awesome,” Falk says. “[We’ll] have two rec kids’ teams, and we’ll have them play under the lights. We’re excited be able to recognize all our donors and major supporters.”
Light It UP! is successfully bringing lights to the community basketball courts at Potomac Yard Park thanks to PARKnerships with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities (RPCA).
To learn more and receive updates about the LIU project, visit www.fb.com/pg/lightituppotomacyards.