The story of our first project
In selecting a location for our first FitLot, we wanted to make sure our flagship park would serve a community that wanted it and would truly benefit from it.
During our search, we learned that the Tremé/Lafitte neighborhood of New Orleans which was only a couple of miles from our office at the time suffers from some of the country’s worst health outcomes and the largest life expectancy gap in the nation. Residents in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans live 25-30 years less than people in neighborhoods only two miles away.
This statistic absolutely shocked us, and we knew that our first park needed to serve this community.
In addition to the clear health needs, we knew that the location would have to make the park easy to get to and part of the community.
Our friends at the ReFresh Project, a community hub of 50 health serving organizations, suggested The Sojourner Truth Neighborhood Center because there was underutilized space next to their existing playground, and it would create direct access to the residential community of 900+ people who live in the surrounding blocks. In addition, the park would be located along the path of The Lafitte Greenway a 2.6-mile linear Rails to Trails park in the heart of New Orleans that connects neighborhoods from the French Quarter to City Park and is currently being used by over 315,000 people annually.
The next step was forming a partnership with Providence Community Housing, the nonprofit real estate development organization that operates the Sojourner Truth Neighborhood Center and accepted the park as a donation from FitLot.
Once the site was selected, FitLot worked with local landscape architecture and planning firm Dana Brown & Associates who provided pro bono services to develop the site plan. Having a tangible image of the new park proved to be important as the process continued. The site plan helped other stakeholders, especially sponsors, understand the vision of the future FitLot and ultimately pledge their support.
With the site secured, the process of securing funding for the park ramped up. Early supporters provided vital funding through small, community grants. These sponsors shared FitLot’s goals of community health and wellness and included national brands with a local footprint like, Lululemon, Cox Communications, and Whole Foods Market.
In the following months, sponsorships were also provided by The Target Foundation and the Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation.
Even as we slowly secured grants and sponsorships, we wanted the community to be able to support the project, as well. So, we conducted a crowdfunding campaign that allowed community members to support the project directly by making tax-deductible donations. The campaign surpassed our goal and raised over $40,000 from more than 500 individual donors. The video below was made for the crowdfunding campaign.
NFL Pro-Bowl punter for the New Orleans Saints Thomas Morstead was inspired by the project and the crowdfunding campaign and decided to close the final funding gap. Thomas’s foundation became the title sponsor and the What You Give Will Grow FitLot was on its way to becoming reality.
“We wanted to show people that what you give can actually grow into a community space and resource for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy. We believe that strong, healthy individuals are the foundation of strong, healthy communities, and the What You Give Will Grow FitLot is now a community space for all to benefit from.”
NFL Pro-Bowl Punter, New Orleans Saints
Founder, What You Give Will Grow
In the last phase of planning, FitLot partnered with local firm Landis Construction to serve as the general contractor of the project. Landis would oversee the site preparation, installation of the concrete pad, and shade structure. Landis Construction was an amazing partner on this project and decided to donate a portion of the work.
The build-out of the FitLot from start to finish took about two weeks.
Community Build Day
February 1, 2017
Once the concrete and shade structure were installed, the community build day provided an opportunity for residents, future FitLot Coaches, and project supporters to come together to install the actual fitness equipment and landscape the new park with trees and bushes donated by the NOLA Tree Project. Even Thomas Morstead invested some sweat equity to complement the generous support of his foundation. By the end of the day, all the equipment was installed and the park was ready for the safety surfacing to be poured as the final touch.
Opening the park
The official opening of the park was a great time to celebrate the efforts and partnership of everyone involved in making the first FitLot a reality. Thomas Morstead delivered remarks along with Mayor Latoya Cantrell and FitLot’s Executive Director, Adam Mejerson.
.@thomasmorstead's @wygwg6 teamed up with FitLot to open a fitness park on the Lafitte Greenway! pic.twitter.com/LMolruzPpd— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) March 14, 2017
Activating the park
Planning, funding, and building the FitLot was only the beginning of this project. Once the park was open, programming started immediately to “activate” the park and teach people how to use it. No-cost community classes were hosted 3 times a week for everyone to take part in. Local fitness professionals were trained to be FitLot Neighborhood Coaches and organizations like AARP, Healthy Blue, and Friends of Lafitte Greenway teamed up with us to support ongoing programming.
The park is now part of the neighborhood, and you can find people of all ages and abilities enjoying it to become stronger and healthier.
View this post on Instagram
Look who stopped by the FitLot for a Saturday morning workout! The Saints must have the strongest punter in the NFL no question. Great to have you out at the park @thomasmorstead And @adammson. It’s been two years since Thomas and his foundation, What You Give Will Grow supported the opening of the first FitLot in the country and we are forever grateful to have the support of a FitLot champion like Thomas! #fitlot #nola #fitnola #wygwg #whodat
View this post on Instagram
Another shot of @novemberprojectnola putting the #FitLot to great use Monday morning! 25 people showed up at 6:00am! If you prefer working out in the evening, drop by our free Wednesday workouts at 5:45pm. Free circuit training class for all ages and abilities. #justshowup #nola #fit