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Rainbow Beach Park Awarded 15 Million for Renovations

by Geoff Peters

Rainbow Beach Park Awarded $1.5 Million for Renovations!

Chicago Community Works Grant Winners Announced

 

We hear about many racquetball players who have grand visions for our sport, ranging from developing junior programs, to saving our courts, teaching the next generation of players, and of course returning to the heyday of our sport in the 1980’s and 1990’s! Many of those players and promoters are doing phenomenal things, often on a shoestring budget, to make great things happen that will contribute to the next renaissance of the sport of racquetball. USA Racquetball is dedicated to supporting all of these individuals and associations in any way possible. They believe in the future of our sport, and the volunteer Board of Directors and the small National Staff are actively working to promote racquetball at all levels across the country.

Illinois State Racquetball Association (ISRA) Board Member Carolyn Vazquez set her target higher than anyone in recent memory. Carolyn is a lifelong Chicagoan (St. Ignatius College Preparatory and Northern Illinois University) whose passions revolve around childhood development and opportunity...and, of course, racquetball. Carolyn has been one of the volunteer coaches and organizers who has led Junior Team Illinois over the past five years, and her 8-year-old daughter Bella as well as her nieces have been some of the juniors to benefit from the racquetball coaching and life skills of this program. 

Carolyn grew up on the South Side of Chicago where outdoor courts at Rainbow Beach have been in continuous use by a dedicated cadre of racquetball and handball enthusiasts over the past 40 years. As we moved into COVID lockdowns in Chicago, these outdoor courts became the only place to play within the City of Chicago. An intrepid group of players (including Carolyn) have been playing regularly, even through the fall and winter (when it gets above 45 degrees)! However, maintenance of the courts and the locker facilities has been sketchy -- they need some loving care!

This past summer, Mayor Lori Lightfoot launched the Chicago Community Works Challenge to provide an opportunity for all Chicago residents to tell the City what infrastructure investments they want to see prioritized in their neighborhoods. This unique opportunity empowers residents to become agents of change, and Carolyn’s vision motivated her to apply. The process started with more than 500 grant submissions and after a robust community engagement process, the unprecedented $10 million competition found the best public works projects in each of Chicago’s seven planning regions, with a focus on parks, schools, and library properties. Racquets for Rainbow Beach, a youth fitness program, was the comprehensive proposal Carolyn submitted to renovate the courts, upgrade the facilities, and offer after-school programs rooted in racquetball to benefit the community in the Southeast Region. 

The proposal made it to the list of 21 semi-finalists (three per region) and the local handball and racquetball communities rose to the challenge and submitted surveys in support of the Rainbow Beach proposal. A selection committee awarded funding to seven proposals to bring their visions to life. Rainbow Beach was ultimately awarded one of the seven grants of (wait for it) $1.5 million to renovate the courts, seating areas, and fieldhouse. These renovations will improve the location and provide opportunities to introduce more Chicagoans to the sport. In partnership with the Chicago Park District, we can mentor more Junior players and usher new players into racquetball.

The group playing racquetball discussed chipping in $100 each so there could be repainting of lines and a little patching of the courts! Now, thanks to Carolyn’s efforts, there will be a complete renovation making the space better for future players. Carolyn is definitely focused with the City of Chicago’s Planning Department, the Chicago Park District, and Community Leaders ready to assist. 

When Carolyn was on USA Racquetball’s Real Racquetball Show in January, she talked about her commitment to the youth of Chicago and the South Side as well as her passion for the sport of racquetball and how it can benefit kids. In fact, she directly invited the Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot; the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Pedro Martinez (who has great memories of playing with family); and the Mayor’s staff to come play as soon as the work is done. We’re looking forward to seeing that event on the local news next year when all of the work is completed!

Real Racquetball Show appearance on January 24, 2022:

https://www.facebook.com/164703169528/videos/628291835141750

Carolyn’s live speech at the Mayoral News Conference (Carolyn is introduced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot at the 21-minute mark):

https://www.facebook.com/CityofChicagoOfficial/videos/639949177423081

Rainbow Beach Park Awarded $1.5 Million for Renovations!

                          Carolyn Vazquez (Photo courtesy of Gabriela Jirasek, Chicago Mayor’s Office)

Congratulations to Carolyn from all of us at USA Racquetball and the ISRA on tenaciously acquiring a $1.5 million grant that will bring another generation of players into our sport on the South Side of Chicago!

If anyone has specific questions about how Carolyn tackled this challenge and emerged a winner, she can be reached at cvazquez1008@yahoo.com.

Rainbow Beach Park Awarded $1.5 Million for Renovations!

L to R: Howard Williams, Carolyn Vazquez, Isabella Vazquez, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Park District CEO and Superintendent Rosa Escareño, Valerie Prendergast (Photo courtesy of Gabriela Jirasek, Chicago Mayor’s Office)

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