Beacon Hill is an eclectic neighborhood just north of downtown San Antonio. Victorian-style homes line the streets, but suburban sprawl attracted people away from the area, leaving many of those homes and parks in decay.
Now, Beacon Hill is on the rebound with a new playground and basketball court, helping to breathe life into the neighborhood.
"I think it validates the community,” says Beacon Hill Neighborhood Association treasurer Cosima Colvin. “It lets the community know that they're a part of something bigger. I think it lets them know that people care about them, and pay attention to them, and I think it brings cohesiveness.”
Funding from a city bond helped build the basketball court and playground, and the second phase of the project will soon be underway.
“You meet people when you get out of your house, and if you really want to build community, the first thing you have to do is get people out of their houses,” Colvin added.
On any given day, hoards of teens and young men in their twenties pack the court for friendly games of basketball.
"I come over here about four times a week...to play basketball with my friends because it's a close place,” said 16-year-old Delano Covarrubias.
“I love basketball, and this is one of the places where there's a lot of people that come, so might as well come to where the people come, play with other people."
They play for hours, until it's so dark you can barely see the ball, much less the basket. A quick game can last half an hour but they don't even look tired. Victor Lanto says it gets competitive, but you can't beat the friendships.
"We've got a bunch of different kids from the neighborhood. You can come and you play against different people and, nothing aggressive, just good 'ol fun."
It wasn’t easy getting the court built, though.
Colvin said frustration set in when the ideas for the playground and court had to be tossed out to match the amount of money they had to spend on the projects. Given their popularity in the community, she didn’t quite mind.
"That basketball court was not open for five minutes and we had kids playing there,” she said. “It has been worth every moment of frustration that we had because it is always busy. It's been wonderful."
The court is great, but people like psychologist Steven Wallace argue kids need more than a place to play--they need positive role models.
In "The Positive Impact of Youth Mentoring," he wrote adolescents need, and very much want, consistent exposure to caring, supportive adults who serve as their mentors.
Twenty-six-year-old Michael Mata shows up for games frequently. He's in college now but when he was in high school, he says he'd play basketball at many neighborhood courts like this. He's modest about the role he plays with the guys, and doesn't consider himself a mentor, even though in many ways he is.
“I mean, if these [kids need] advice, I'm more than happy to give it to them but I try to point them in the right direction. That's all we can do," Mata says.
Kids with mentors are 46% less likely to start using drugs, 27% less likely to start drinking, and 52% less likely to skip a day of school, according to Armen Babajanian, who is with Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas.
“It makes a lot of sense," Babajanian explains, "[When] you have somebody who's encouraging, who's there for you, who's there to talk to you when you're not having a good day at school."
He says the basketball court is a safe place to go. Playing well is optional. But if there are positive people around, too, Babajanian says then you start to shape a really positive person.
And that gives Beacon Hill all the more reason to celebrate.
During a grand opening event Saturday, San Antonio police officers and firefighters will play basketball with the neighborhood kids. The celebration will include music food and fun, and will get underway at 2 p.m. at the corner of West Elsmere Place and West Michigan Avenue.