History of Panama Park Neighborhood Association
History of the neighborhood can be found at: http://www.panamapark.com/index.html
In August 2013 the campus Pastor of The Potter’s House International Ministry North Side at 63rd and Main Street, and one neighborhood resident began to daily prayer walk the entire perimeter of the Panama Park Neighborhood. This action alone increased our awareness of the scope of need and the diversity in this very sizeable neighborhood.
An after-school program was created and offered through that same church location to the neighborhood children that our walks had revealed. This program continued for 2 years with some success, but declining participation on the part of both students and teachers led to its termination.
When in a prayer meeting it was declared and decided that what our community needed was a good old fashioned Come Together. An event purely for the purpose of coming together as a community, get to know one another, eat together, hear one another’s stories, watch our kids play together, and share about what’s strong and not what’s wrong. Through advertising and connecting with neighbors and businesses, we raised the Nextdoor App numbers from 30 to 70 neighbors using it. We had our 1st Panama Park Come Together event in July of 2016. (while still prayer walking the neighborhood each morning.) At this event we worked with the director of the Parks Department who extended the park hours so that we could have a movie, safely arrange that we could have horses for the children to ride. It produced a safe and successful event that yielded more than 300 neighbors coming together and leaving the park cleaner than when we arrived. The Come Together debriefing meetings resulted in neighbors committing to meet monthly at the park on Saturday mornings to pick up trash and provide an improved environment for our children.
By December of 2016 these park cleaning exercises rather spontaneously transformed into monthly neighborhood planning sessions. We tried multiple locations and times to accommodate the most neighbors. We started meeting in the same out building of the church where we had been hosting the afternoon school program. We tried some meetings in the historically significant Henry Klotho designed, century old, former elementary school building on Lawton (now the North Florida Educational Institute owned and operated by Stacey Pool and his wife.) But really found our stride when a relationship developed through community canvasing reviled a city Councilman's Assistant was our neighbor. The “no” we had received regarding the use of the Senior Citizen Center on Buffalo Ave. and adjacent to the park, suddenly became a “yes”. Throughout the tenure of our monthly meetings we have tried to place value on breaking bread together, so we have consistently started all our meetings with a dinner together. This afforded an expansion of relationships with our neighborhood businesses as we sought and secured numerous and varied meals from our neighborhood restaurants, both old and new.
At the next Come Together in June 2017 we not only had larger neighborhood participation numbers, but actual business sponsorships, mostly along the main street corridor. The monthly meetings continued as we reached out to more neighbors and increased the Nextdoor App participation levels. All along we kept agendas and meeting minutes to facilitate the inclusion of those we had not met yet into our growing circle of neighborhood focused friends. We had no idea that this is the very thing required to be officially acknowledged as a neighborhood association by the city. Meetings that began with getting to know each other turned toward recognizing and acknowledging community assets. Before we began to inventory desired changes and improvements, several months were spent in listening to frustrations and problems with a view towards narrowing our focus and consolidating the list down to three items of significant impact with a view toward their solutions. For example;
Street safety due to speeding was recognized as an opportunity to focus on sidewalk repair and creation. First steps were creating a real time inventory and a list being submitted to our City Council member and the Public Works director.
A second item was almost always related to the park itself…safety and cleanliness, infrastructure, upgrades, bathrooms, staffing, and its historical significance in the neighborhood’s ability to flourish. Our City Council member and our Parks Director started comi8ng to our meetings and even now we are working toward a decision on how to best utilize a dedicated 100,000 towards physical improvements. Conversations with the sheriff reviled that there may be access to a camera program to increase security of the park. Already improvements are being made with parking lot, bench, fencing improvements. It lends one to think that the neighborhood that begins to show that it cares gets cared for.
A third item was our neighborhood’s relationship with the Panama Youth Services often decried as the neighborhood nuisance or source of all criminal activity. An effort was initiated to build bridges with the group home’s director and board members and ultimately the boys themselves. After multiple conversations and with participating with local businesses, churches, and our city Councilman, we hosted a fish fry and fun event to encourage neighborly relations and mutual respect.
About this time, we were officially recognized by the city as an official Neighborhood Association. The association put together a website, social media, and signage (of course in compliance with placement codes). Our 3rd Come Together in May 2018 yielded our largest crowd to date. The Nextdoor App participation rose to over 130 and business sponsorships and participation was from every corner of the neighborhood. This 3rd Panama Park Come Together cemented in our minds that we needed to take steps to get a 501-C3 and become an official nonprofit organization and that’s where we are today.