Knoxville SOUP – the quarterly-ish crowd-funding dinner that rewards projects that serve the community – hit a homerun Tuesday night.
Four individuals stood in front of a capacity crowd at the South Knoxville Community Center and pitched projects for which they needed funding. All the projects were worthy: Horse Haven of Tennessee, which rescues neglected equine from throughout the state, sought funds for feed and veterinary care; Community Faces, a project of The Big Camera, is working on an art installation to help the homeless in South Knoxville develop stronger ties to the community; Maynard Glenn Ballpark, somewhat of a stepchild of the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, asked for help to improve safety and parking; and Dogwood Elementary School campaigned for instruments for its two steel-drum ensembles.
Against the stiff competition, Maynard Glenn Ballpark in the South Haven neighborhood won the crowd over to its cause – funds to install better lighting to deter ne’er-do-wells and to help people feel safe walking back to their cars, as well as for paint to reline the faded parking lot and make it more efficient.
It didn’t hurt that Julia Weissinger, commissioner of South Knoxville Youth Sports and presenter of the project, couched the park’s difficulties in David vs. Goliath terms or that she promised that when she retires from work next spring she plans “to be a real pain in somebody’s neck” when it comes to advocating for the ballpark.
“I’ve never been one to rattle cages, beat the bushes or panhandle for money,” said Weissinger. “But I think that I could develop the skills. I’m just getting my toe wet here.”
The crowd lapped up her blunt talk.
“We have worked diligently since I’ve worked at Maynard Glenn Ballpark since 1994 trying to improve the facility so that everyone comes into the park feeling safe and successful, and we’ve made great gains, and it’s because we’ve got great volunteers,” she said. “It is not so much because the city of Knoxville Parks & Recreation Department supports us.”
Weissinger said that kids from many different areas of Knoxville participate in baseball and softball at the park, which also provides space for football practice, but other parks in town – including the new Lakeshore Park – have been funded as higher priorities. Meanwhile, the parking lot hasn’t been painted since before 2000, and visitors park “every which way.”
“We had a little girl faint this past spring, and the fire truck and ambulance couldn’t even get into the park to give her assistance.”
She said the park’s volunteers could do the labor to take care of the parking situation.
“It’s a chaotic event on a night that we have three or four fields playing games, and it’s because there isn’t enough good direction with lines.”
Lighting is a huge issue at the park, which is used nine months a year.
“If you leave the park and the field lights go off, you’re totally in the dark. And so that’s what we propose: lights in the parking lot, lights on the walkways and painted lines on the parking lot.”
Weissinger said that after 25 years of requests, this summer the city properly installed a net to prevent fly balls from damaging adjoining properties and cars. The previous net hung too low, and children couldn’t resist climbing on it. Noting that the threat of a lawsuit impelled the update, she said, “I don’t know; I’m ready to try anything.”
One of her anecdotes had the crowd roaring with laughter.
“(Former Mayor) Bill Haslam came into my parking lot and told me he used to play on Field 1. I said, ‘Well, look down at the ground. You are standing on Field 1 because all the Field 1 dirt washed into this corner of the parking lot.’
“Well, he sent engineers, and that field has been taken of, but in the course of that work they neglected to pave a sinkhole, so that needs to be paved. That’s why we blocked it off so cars don’t travel back and forth across that opening in the ground.”
After the presentations, attendees dined on soup, salad, bread and desserts donated by local businesses, had fun with a diverse raffle and voted on their favorite project.
Weissinger seemed shocked when master of ceremonies Alan Williams of WVLT announced her project as the winner. But considering that she’d just won three prizes in the raffle, she seemed almost destined to be the lucky one. The pot was around $1,470, with people generously adding to the take from the floor before Weissinger could get back to her seat.
It was the biggest award in Knoxville SOUP’s four-year history. The South Knoxville Alliance sponsors the event, which is open to projects from throughout Knox County.
August SOUP chair Janice Tocher announced that the next SOUP would be in October at the Kerbela Shriners temple. The date and more info will be available soon on knoxvillesoup.org.