The Prayer in the Park group he started in 2007 is more than just a few friends praying for the safety of their children and families. They actively work to keep their neighborhood safe.
From patrolling John Erb Park on Barcelona Drive in western Tracy to cleaning up after animals, Ward and the prayer in the park group work to keep the community safe. They do things like pick up broken bottles off the basketball court, paint over graffiti on the picnic tables and pick up trash left on the ground.
“Our kids come out here and play every day,” Ward said. “They play on this field where the dogs do their business. They play on those structures over there and they sit under this awning, and I don’t want them looking at obscene writings.”
Since 2007, Ward and Tracy resident James Young have met Monday through Friday in the park to pray. Two other Tracy residents joined in later on.
The cleanup aspect of the group started in summer 2008, when Young said he started to notice more graffiti. He said the graffiti gets worse in the summer, when kids are out of school and have more time on their hands.
For Young, taking action was an easy decision.
“You see something that needs to be done, you just do it,” Young said.
Ward and Young talk to members of the community and ask for help to keep the park clean and safe. They said most people are respectful and even lend a hand when they see others cleaning up.
“We don’t approach them condemning them,” Ward said. ”We approach them with love.”
Besides asking people to pick up their trash, Ward and Young approach gang members and troubled teens and ask them to refrain from tagging the benches or doing drugs in the park.
“You see people having issues, you have to embrace them,” Ward said. “You have to reach them. … You can’t reach them by beating them on the head. You gotta show them some love.”
They take time to sit with the teens and offer them a friendly face to talk to, which Young said is the best way to approach them.
“If you approach the gang members right, chances are they are going to respond,” he said. “If you come out hollering, they might retaliate.”
Young and his wife invite kids to their home on Cypress Drive on Monday nights to learn principles of living taught through biblical principles. On average, they see between 12 and 16 kids per week. He said the goal is to supplement education some kids may not be getting at home.
“All we are doing is just trying to help the kids learn how to respect adults,” Young said, lessons he said kids should get at home but oftentimes don’t.
The long-term vision for Prayer in the Park is to get other communities in Tracy to follow in Young and Ward’s footsteps.
Kimo Alimboyoguen, Tracy resident and founder and senior pastor of Four Winds Community Church in Tracy, prays in the park with Ward and Young and is working with other pastors from Tracy to start similar groups.
Ward is hopeful that their group will inspire others to take pride in their community.
“It’s all about bringing people together,” Ward said. “Doing something so fundamental that will affect the entire community in a positive way.”
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