By Danielle Chazen
Some professional athletes have trouble managing their money effectively after retirement, not saving enough for their own future, let alone charitable contributions. But former University of Maryland and Houston Rockets star Steve Francis is using his funds to give back to the community that nurtured him.
Francis, a graduate of Montgomery Blair High School, participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 3 to officially open the newly renovated Takoma-Piney Branch Local Park to the community. Through the Steve Francis Foundation, he donated $70,000 to restore the 17.4-acre park.
Three hundred community members came out to celebrate the park's opening, including elected officials such as state Sen. Jamie Raskin, Delegate Sheila Hixson and Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams. Children that live in the neighborhood and will now use the park thanked Francis for his contribution.
"I would say the condition of the park was a 4 out of 10 before," Francis said. "This project has been 25 years in the making. I grew up here, and to give back to the community and see the park covered with people means so much to me."
The money donated to redevelop Francis' childhood park allowed for construction of a new basketball court, which features a color-coated surface and six hoops to allow for half- and full-court play; a skateboard park; a volleyball court; and a pavilion dedicated to his late mother, who died from cancer when Francis was 18 years old.
"The response has been great," Francis said. "They [Montgomery Parks Foundation] really appreciate somebody who grew up here to come back and give back to the community. A lot of people grow up and don't come back and give back."
Francis' donation will also be used to establish an endowment for the Takoma-Piney Branch Local Park, to support operations and lifecycle repairs and replacements to the amenities, said Debbie Rankin, executive director of the Montgomery Parks Foundation.
"It has always been a popular and much-loved park by the community, but was in much need of renovation," Rankin said. "This generous contribution really highlights the individual connection to the wonderful parks of Montgomery County by its residents and those who grew up in our community."
Francis compared the feeling of opening the park to graduating from high school or college or making it to the NBA. It was another one of those pinnacles, he said.
Francis said his hope for the park was for youngsters to learn and grow from the community's older children.
"I want it to be a sanctuary to learn crafts and things like that," he said, "a place where people in the community are able to feel relaxed and have a breath of life when they come here and get their thoughts together."
This donation, from a homegrown professional athlete, elevates the profile of the Montgomery Parks Foundation and its efforts and mission to inspire financial support, Rankin said.
"This is a growing need in today's tough economic climate," she said, "where individuals, families and communities are being forced to do more with less. Montgomery Parks is also doing more with less, and the demands for new parks, upgraded parks and park renovations continue to increase. Support from individuals and organizations is critical to ensure the well-being of our parks, which play such a vital role in communities."
Francis' involvement with the park has not ended with his donation. Francis said he planned to stay involved and orchestrate events such as tournaments, clinics for children and the 14th-annual Fourth of July celebration.
Carrie Potter of The Carrie Potter Group LLC, who advises and represents Francis, said she could hear how significant this project was to Francis by simply listening to his voice when he spoke about the park.
"For him to walk up and see the kids playing really touches his heart," Potter said. "He dreamed about this for so long, and to walk in there today and see his past meet his future and have it all come together was overwhelming."
More Front Row:
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• Soccer Champs Slate 30-Year Anniversary
• Ex-Terp Ace Francis Honors His Hometown
• Liberto Slugs Homers For Designated Hitters
• Swing For The Fences, But Don't Forget Heels
• Keeping Pools Clean Is Not An Easy Task
Issue 174: June 2012