Gay activist wants to spruce up park

Joseph Fennell and his Charleston Community Outreach hope to fix up and expand Vivian Anderson Moultrie Park in Charleston.

After organizing a November march in support of gay civil rights, Joseph Fennell heard some people remark that the gay community doesn't do much to help the community at large. He decided to show them how wrong they were.

Fennell, a 25-year-old Charleston native, is working with a group of volunteers to establish a nonprofit organization aimed at improving the lives of needy Lowcountry residents.

The group, dubbed Charleston Community Outreach, initially has its sights set on fixing up and expanding Vivian Anderson Moultrie Park, an unlikely little playground beneath the Interstate 26 overpass at King and Mount Pleasant streets.

"I rode around town and that park just seemed to be the one that jumped out the most in terms of needing the most attention," said Fennell, a local hospitality industry worker.

The park, profiled in Monday's Post and Courier, sits in perpetual shadow beneath a concrete canopy, just yards from a gas station. Outside of swings and a small climbing gym, the park doesn't have much for kids, and neighbors say it often sits empty.

Fennell met with city parks officials on Wednesday to see if his group could help change that by raising money to install fencing, expand the park and add playground equipment, a child-size basketball court and grills for picnickers.

By using volunteers and refurbished equipment, they can probably keep the project's cost to $7,000 or less, Fennell said.

"We just want to make it a more family-friendly park, something directed more toward kids than teenagers," he said.

The improvements would likely attract many more people to the spot, Fennell said, and added that officials at a nearby private school told him they didn't use the park because it had no fencing to protect students from traffic along King Street.

Parks Department Deputy Director Matt Compton said it will likely take a couple of months to iron out details, make sure neighbors are happy with the plan and run the proposal past the state, which owns the land.

But Fennell's concept showed promise, and he apparently has access to volunteers and resources to make it happen, Compton said.

"He was excited about the opportunity to help," Compton said. "And we are excited about participating in partnerships to make these spaces better."

Fennell said his group is still preparing paperwork to officially register as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, but it hopes to soon begin raising funds for this and other projects.

The group hopes to make a difference in people's lives, he said, whether it be through renovating a park or fixing the leaky roof of a low-income resident's home.

"It's basically anything that needs to be done that someone can't afford to do," he said.