NRPA Niagara Refresh Project Impacts Youth Across the Country

By Rukmini Kalamangalam | Posted on April 10, 2024


Public-private partnerships provide funding that brings to life large-scale park enhancements and other projects that have long been on community wish lists. But when the construction phase is complete and park users are able to celebrate and enjoy the new park equipment, short-staffed park and recreation agencies may see another side. New park facilities often require additional maintenance, as well as cost and staff time devoted to project management and event planning. So, we looked for another way.

In celebration of the Niagara 60th anniversary in 2023, Niagara Bottling and NRPA tested a new model — a supplementary investment in parks that had previously been supported by grants. This past year, eight parks across the United States have received funding from Niagara to refresh their outdoor play space.


Pictured: Young Rialto athletes compete at Bud Bender Park.

Rialto Parks Recreation and Community Services Director Cynthia Alvarado paints a vivid picture of her California city. “It’s a small town bursting at the seams with a big, beating heart,” she says. “Here in Rialto, family isn’t just a concept — it’s the cornerstone of our community.”

In 2016, when the City of Rialto first received funding from Niagara, park staff saw the opportunity to bring new playground equipment to Bud Bender Park. Fast-forward eight years, and the park maintenance team has been on a mission to keep the much-loved park, from its baseball fields to its lush green spaces, in immaculate condition.

Supplemental funding, however, is not just about maintenance — it’s about creating vibrant community spaces where memories are made. Bud Bender Park is home to community birthday parties, holiday barbecues and youth sports. Baseball fields at the park are a hub of activity for young athletes, including young stars in the Rialto Youth PONY Baseball League.

With the Niagara refresh funding, the Rialto Parks department is taking Bud Bender Park to new heights, installing more than 150 tons of clay, laser-leveling its baseball fields, adding three new water fountains for patrons and their furry companions to enjoy, and giving the scoreboard a fresh coat of paint.

“These kids deserve facilities that match their boundless energy and excitement,” Alvarado says. “Thanks to the generosity of Niagara and NRPA’s refresh grant, the dreams of our youth in the community are taking center stage. With state-of-the-art facilities, they’ll continue honing their baseball skills and chasing their dreams on fields that reflect their limitless potential.

Across the country in Gahanna, Ohio, the refresh project is reaching another group of dedicated youth. Thanks to the funding provided, a local Girl Scout troop is working with the Gahanna Parks and Recreation department to install a sundial in Sunpoint Park, formerly known as McCutchen Park. Made of granite rocks repurposed from another Gahanna park, the sundial will be a star feature of an already busy outdoor space. Sunpoint Park was the recipient of Niagara funding in 2019, bringing recreational amenities and playground equipment to the only park in Gahanna that didn’t have either. The playground is designed with accessibility in mind, supporting adults with motor-function rehabilitation. The sundial itself will be wheelchair accessible, so every park visitor can participate in its magic.

Sundial Construction

Alan Little, project administrator for Gahanna Parks and Recreation, says he hopes the sundial encourages Gahanna’s youth to think scientifically. He sees that happening already with the Girl Scout troop’s involvement with the project. The girls are asking questions like, “Why don’t the numbers on the dial go all the way around,” which prompts them to think about how the sundial works — it requires a shadow cast that isn’t present in the dark. They get to be part of their own scientific discovery. The sundial doesn’t work without someone standing in it to cast the shadow, so anyone standing in the sundial is integral to the way it works. Little says he hopes that feeling of importance encourages Gahanna’s youth to explore the solar system, go home and research their questions and expand their minds. “[The sundial] is a tool. It’s just like reading a book. It gives them access to an opportunity; [it offers] … something they might be interested in.”

Pictured: Workers construct a sundial at Sunpoint Park.

The projects in Rialto and Gahanna have allowed dedicated park and recreation staff to make small-scale improvements with big impact on the youth they serve. Refreshing a park plays a crucial role in maintaining its vibrancy, safety and utility without needing a complete overhaul.  To learn more about the refresh project, check out the infographic below.





Rukmini Kalamangalam (she/her) is a program specialist at NRPA.