Couple works to reopen Graceada Park pool in honor of their son

BY KEVIN VALINE, The Modesto Bee, November 22, 2017

Katie and Jake Barber are raising money to restore Graceada Park’s wading pool and splash pad in honor of their son, Ryan, who was stillborn May 6.

While Ryan will never play in the pool and splash pad with other children and his big sister – 2-1/2-year-old Brooke – the project will keep his memory alive, and it’s the Barbers’ way to give back to those who have helped them.

“When we lost Baby Ryan we saw a lot of support from the community,” Katie Barber said, “and we want to return that, and it helps to focus on something positive.”

The goal is to have the children’s wading pool reopen May 6, 2018, and it will be dedicated in Ryan’s name. The splash pad and a third project, putting in a play structure across the street at Enslen Park, will be done as funding becomes available.

The infrastructure for the pool and splash pad – including pumps and filters – was destroyed in fires in recent years. The Barbers said the pool restoration will cost $40,000, the splash pad $175,000 and the play structure $80,000 to $100,000. The pool and splash pad include upgrades.

The Barbers – who live near the two parks – have raised $60,000, more than enough to fix the pool. They said Burkett’s Pool Plastering in Ripon will do the work at cost except for enclosing the pump and the other infrastructure. Another contractor will build the enclosure. To help raise funds you can donate to the Ryan Michael Barber Fund

This is not the only TLC planned for Graceada and Enslen, which are in the college area and among Modesto’s most popular parks. Modesto is poised to enter into an agreement with the College Area Neighborhood Alliance and Modesto Neighborhoods Inc. for the Barbers’ and other improvements at the two parks. CANA would serve as sort of a project manager on behalf of the city as people and groups come forward to take on projects. CANA belongs to Modesto Neighborhoods Inc., which will provide liability insurance and other assistance.

The money for the projects would come from the community, and the projects would not go forward without city approval and oversight. The completed projects would be donated to the city, and the city would maintain them. The proposed projects include renovating Mancini Bowl in Graceada and the Boy Scout Clubhouse in Enslen.

The City Council’s Safety and Communities Committee recently was briefed about the agreement and forwarded it to the council for approval. It could come to the council in January.

Modesto officials say teaming up with a neighborhood group is an effective way of helping city parks that have suffered from years of budget cuts. “Obviously, we don’t have a lot of funding to improve our parks,” Parks Planning and Development Manager Nathan Houx said. “So this is a key piece to the puzzle of improving our parks.”

The agreement also comes as many complain about vagrancy and bad behavior in city parks. The project embodies the city’s mantra about replacing bad uses in parks with good uses. But city and CANA officials say this is not an effort to target the homeless.

CANA steering team member Twainhart Hill said her neighborhood group is working with the Stanislaus Community System of Care Collaborative to help the homeless.

“The exciting part for me is we are making these improvements and working on the core problem of homelessness in the parks,” Hill said. “We are not just pushing them out but seeing if we can connect them with services.”

The proposed agreement is the product of about a year’s work, including surveying college area residents and other outreach to come up with the wish list of park projects. Modesto Neighborhoods Inc. President Brad Hawn said he hopes other neighborhood groups emulate what CANA and the city have done. “We are building a prototype,” he said, “so we can do this with other parks in the city.”

The Barbers came up with the idea of repairing the wading pool a few weeks after Ryan was stillborn. They said they then spoke with CANA and learned about the bigger effort and took on two more projects.

The Barbers said they still have dark and sad days. Katie Barber was 39 weeks pregnant when she saw the doctor and everything was fine. She went into labor a couple of days later. “We never found out why,” Jake Barber said about Ryan’s stillbirth. “It had been a normal pregnancy up to that point. It was a total shock.”

“I just think this is a great way to be positive and move forward and keep his memory alive and have something in his name,” he said.

Ryan Foy