From left, Fraser City Councilman Michael Lesich, Fraser Parks and Recreation Director Christina Woods and parks and rec member Laura Lesich accept the 2018 Community Excellence Award on Sept. 22 in Grand Rapids.

From left, Fraser City Councilman Michael Lesich, Fraser Parks and Recreation Director Christina Woods and parks and rec member Laura Lesich accept the 2018 Community Excellence Award on Sept. 22 in Grand Rapids.

Photo provided by the Michigan Municipal League

Fraser’s barrier-free park honored with statewide award

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published December 21, 2018


FRASER — Fraser City Councilman Michael Lesich said that support from the city and its volunteer residents was a “key driver” in turning McKinley Barrier-Free Park from a dream concept 12 years ago into reality.

On Sept. 22, the entire city was honored with the Michigan Municipal League’s 2018 Community Excellence Award during the MML’s annual convention in Grand Rapids. The awards, also known as “The Race for the Cup,” began in 2007 as a way to recognize statewide innovation.

It is the most prestigious award doled out by the MML. Last year’s winner was the city of Hudsonville.

This year, Fraser and McKinley Park were one of four finalists in the statewide competition, joining Muskegon’s Western Market; the Armory Project, in Owosso; and the downtown Saginaw SVRC Marketplace.

Communities began submitting projects in the spring. Each entry was ranked by a panel of judges, with members of the public also weighing in through online voting. Judges’ rankings accounted for 75 percent of the final decision.

Lesich, also a volunteer, said fundraising had been a challenge for a long time. However, money has increased over the past five years or so due to state and foundational support. A recent $300,000 state grant was a “pivotal moment when the project became real.”

“I think it’s a great recognition for a project that the city has backed for a long time,” he said, adding that people from outside the city have visited and enjoyed the park.

Fraser Parks and Recreation Director Christina Woods, who was present with Lesich at the ceremony, said the wonderful thing about being there was the fact that city officials and administrators encouraged her presence.

And while she wishes the city was on better financial footing to construct a park of its own volition, she believes the galvanization of everybody’s efforts has proven fruitful in terms of moving the city forward.

“I spoke with many of these city administrators from around the state, sharing our story of perseverance through hard times and budget constraints; how the city and the Fraser First Booster Club were able to work together to get support from the community to raise funds for this underutilized park, which rejuvenated the area, provided the very first barrier-free park in Macomb County, and educated the community on diversity and understanding for people of all abilities and ages,” she said.

“What was wonderful was hearing that the same struggles that we had were struggles from all across the state. Garnering volunteerism and community engagement were one of the top things that most communities struggle with.”

Sherry Stein, president of the Fraser First Booster Club, said the city stood out due to grassroots efforts. She praised people like Anna Cameron, Vince Calabrese, Sandy Caloia and Vania Apps — all of whom were instrumental in providing the community with a starting platform a decade ago.

Though Stein wasn’t present during the award ceremony, she said she cried knowing the efforts put forth by volunteers, donors, sponsors and city officials.

“This award showcases the city of Fraser and says even if you’re a small town, you can do big things. … My passion for the ability for every child with any ability to be able to play and enjoy each other’s company, it is what makes me want to move forward and make this community better,” she said.

Apps, who stepped down as FFBC president earlier this year, is still a member of the executive board. Getting the opportunity to be a finalist was a big step, she said.

“Most cities that came to our table didn’t have (the luxury of having a nonprofit organization), and they didn’t have such a committed group like Fraser First Booster Club attached to their city’s efforts,” she said. “The cities we talked to were very impressed with that fact.”

Park progress has been “steady,” with a new addition occurring seemingly every year now as long as money is available. This year, it was a swingset. Next on the agenda are more swings and an outdoor exercise pad.

“Now, the community sees what was a park with a horrible reputation has turned into a park that they are proud of and are enjoying to spend time at, and they know they were an important part of that success,” Apps said. “I know that for years to come, the city of Fraser and Macomb County will learn what McKinley Barrier-Free Park has meant to making Fraser and Macomb County a great place to live.”

“It was so rewarding to hear the Fraser community excelling in an area that so many other communities are struggling with,” Woods said. “This goes to show that Fraser is small, but it is a mighty community when we all come together.”