As we enter the dog days of summer, even night air offers little respite for from the stifling heat. In Providence, many of the city’s children rely on public pools to stay cool. Last year the Davey Lopes Pool in South Providence reopened following a controversial closure.
Rhode Island Public Radio’s John Bender revisits the pool a year later, which many call an anchor of the community.
As temperatures climb above 80 degrees, a sticky summer day finds dozens of kids in the cool waters of the outdoor pool at Davey Lopes Recreation center. They hop in and out of this oasis on the city’s South Side. The center is a bright spot in this community; one that's troubled by crime and poverty.
Verlena Johnson is a petite woman who lives in the neighborhood brings her nieces and grandchildren. She walks into the brick community center with about five kids in tow.
“Well we have swimming lessons, Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays during the week, and then they come back at one and they come swimming,” said Johnson.
Davey Lopes serves many minority children. According to a widely-cited, study by U.S.A. Swimming, about 70 percent of African American children and 58 percent of Hispanic children have low or no swimming abilities. Johnson is thankful her kids have the opportunity to learn to swim.
“It kind of gives the kids something to do when you don’t have a lot of money to work with, you know,” said Johnson. “Especially with me, right now I’m not working, so I’m definitely utilizing these things, because otherwise I’d have to pay.”
The five public pools in Providence are open in July and August each year for swimming lessons and day camps. But a little more than a year ago, the future of this pool was uncertain. In dire need of repairs, the pool sat drained, crumbling and locked up. The city had plans to turn it into water fountain park; a place to cool off, but not to swim.
Aleena Johnson grew up in Upper South Providence, and remembers the public outcry over the closure.
“I went to the pool as a child, so I know when it was not open, I know it hurt the community, a little bit, but thank god it’s open now,” said Johnson.
Mary Kay Harris, the city councilor who represents this ward, greets people as she walks through the neighborhood near the pool.
A longtime community activist, Harris was part of the fight to get Davey Lopes reopened. Harris says the pool is more than a place to escape the oppressive summer heat. It’s a staple for neighborhood children in a community that is no stranger to hardship.
“I’m proud of the fact that even though we’re in the South Providence area, we’re victims of lots of crime, we’re victims of poverty, we’re victims of people being homeless, but one thing I can say is that our children, being here, is in a safe place,” said Harris.
And South Providence can be very dangerous. In the last month, in this police district alone, there have been 14 violent crimes, and 66 incidents of assault, vandalism, and drug use. But Harris says things at the pool are different.
She watches a group of kids huddled in a group as they prepare to dive back into the water.
“Let’s listen for a minute,” said Harris. “Let’s listen at the sound of this laughter, let’s listen at, in spite of all the things I told you, the negativity, the poverty, and people unemployed; it’s the sound of the laughter, it’s the sound of the kids coming together and just being here.”
Harris smiles and adds, “That beats a gunshot any day.”
Advocates and politicians like Harris say more can be done to increase pool hours, and get more children involved. But at least for two months this summer kids are swimming in South Providence. And in the recent city-wide swim meet; the team from Davey Lopes came in first place.
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