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Better Together

Mar 30, 2018 11:59AM ● Published by Kylie Kinnett

By: Kylie Kinnett   Photos by: Rachel Benavides

What makes a community? Maybe it is the neighbors you wave hello to in the mornings. Perhaps it is the sidewalks your children grew up riding their bikes on or the local barista who knows your coffee order by heart. A community can take many forms, because where there is fellowship there is community. That is why within a community there are gathering spaces—places where people come to feel known and safe. So, what do an art center, a farmer’s market, a football stadium, and a local park all have in common? They allow common interests to be shared among others. They turn strangers into family. And most importantly, they bring people together.

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Billish Park
- For Picnic Lovers
15539 Gypsy St, Corpus Christi, Texas

A park might seem like an obvious gathering space. After all, that is quite literally its purpose. However, this park in particular, Billish Park on Padre Island, has a slightly different story. Billish Park has been hosting soccer practices, events, and family picnics for the past two decades. Through the years, it became evident the park needed a revamp. Cheri Sperling, President of the Padre Isles Property Owner Association Board, along with a team of others, decided it was finally time to give Billish Park the much-needed restoration it deserved. They wanted to restore this community gathering space for generations to come.

“It’s been a long process, but the community needs this” says Becky Perrin, the Executive Director of the PI POA. Becky, who started with this project when she worked for the Parks and Recreation Department, is thrilled to see the project finally close to fruition.

The park revamp is a combined effort with the Corpus Christi Parks and Recreation and the PI POA. When thinking about Billish Park prior to the reconstruction process, most people would probably have one word that comes to mind: sticker burrs.

The sticker burr problem prevented people from being able to utilize the park to its fullest extent. Alex Karis, the Marketing Director of Coastline Properties, moved to the Island 14 years ago and this is a dream he has had for the park since then. “The fact that we are so close now to the park re-opening, it is so exciting,” he says. “It is going to bring a whole new opportunity to the community who has been wanting a gathering place like this for some time now.” The community spoke and the city listened.

One of the main goals of the new Billish Park is to get the community outside and active and to have a place that is all-inclusive. “We really want this to be a place for everyone,” Becky says. “We really wanted to create a diverse plan that would cater to the community’s needs as a whole.”

As the park nears completion, one of the things everyone is excited about is to have a new place for families to get outside and enjoy the community together. With inclusivity as the goal, the new Billish Park is sure to do just that.

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Rockport Center for the Arts
- For the Art Lovers
106 S Austin Street, Rockport, Texas,
Monday through Saturday, 10 AM – 4 PM

For almost five decades, Rockport Center for the Arts has served as the community’s gathering space. Friends and strangers have gathered here for years and found common ground in a  place they felt safe. 

Residents and tourists alike come here and find, no matter their differences, they have a common thread that brings them together. That thread is art. “Art has the power to  express the agony and the ecstasy of the human condition when words fail us,” Luis Purón, Executive Director of the Rockport Center for the Arts, says as to why he thinks art  brings people together in such a profound way. 

One of the things Luis is most proud of when it comes to the center is how they have always been able to offer a safe space for people to gather and exchange ideas about art completely free of charge. With Hurricane Harvey tearing through Rockport last August, so many of the town’s community gathering spaces were destroyed. But, with the Center for the Arts being the heart of this art community, they knew bringing people together was needed more than ever. In late September, they had their first reception following the hurricane at the Art Museum of South Texas.

“For many of our patrons, it was the first time they were seeing one another after the storm,” Luis says. “You could feel the energy in the room.” The people needed that; they needed their gathering space. The Center re-opened their doors on December 2, 2017, at the Austin St. location, and each of their following major receptions were attended by well over 200 people. That offered Luis hope, as well as proof that what they offer continues to be valid. 

From their early years at the Estelle Stair Gallery, to the 35 years they spent growing the center at the Bruhl – O’Connor home, and now their resurgence in downtown Rockport, there has always been one constant—their supporters. What this says is, no matter how the structure they congregate inside looks, a community will gather.

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Downtown Farmer's Market
- For the Fresh and Handmade Goods Lovers
Art Center of Corpus Christi. 100 N. Shoreline Blvd., Corpus Christi, Texas
Wednesdays from 5pm - 8pm.

Inclusive, supportive, and regenerative are words that come to Aislynn Campbell’s mind when thinking about what a community gathering space means. Aislynn, the GROW Local South Texas Executive Director, knows a thing or two about a gathering space.

The Downtown Farmer’s Market, an initiative led by GROW, strives to create a space where people can authentically trade energies, ideas, and life with one another. However, Aislynn knows successful community spaces usually work on various levels. “The local, healthy food available doesn’t create the community—that’s just a reason for people with common interests to gather in the same place,” she says. “With added layers of art, food, music, and the goal of making Corpus Christi a healthier, better place to live, The Farmer’s Market becomes a one-of-a-kind gathering point which attracts a very diverse segment of the population.”

On any given Wednesday at the Art Center of Corpus Christi, you will find rows of vendors with their handmade goods, farmers with their freshly grown produce, families strolling the booths looking for the weeks’ groceries, kids laughing, and strangers asking to pet other strangers dogs. This scene creates a sense of community that allows people to gather in one place and feel accepted. Not only does the Farmer’s Market bring people of the immediate community together, but it also traverses broader communities.

“Successful Farmer’s Markets become the hub for many intersecting communities,” Aislynn says. “The collusion of those communities is what makes it so special.” And, she’s right. The residents and the tourists, the live music fans and the farmers, the yoga students and the chefs, the art enthusiasts and the families—they all come together in a celebration of life and  community.

Aislynn’s final thoughts ring true to the overarching theme of the importance of a community gathering space. “They are essential. They are life affirming. Their presence throughout history suggests that having gathering spaces is as important to the human race as food, air, and water. They are the marketplace of everything from actual goods and products to the exchange of ideas, energy, and life.”

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Calallen Football

- For the Friday Night Lights Lovers
4001 Wildcat Dr, Corpus Christi, Texas

When meeting with Dawn Youngblood, the proud mother of Luke Youngblood, a star Calallen athlete, she paints us a picture similar to the likes of a movie. The stands are filled to capacity, the streets are lined with cars, and the entire town is shut down, except for the Sonic across the way. It’s your classic Friday night lights scenario. You can feel the school spirit exuding from the stadium the moment you step on its grounds.

However, the reason this football complex is so important is not because of the games that have been won there or the young students it has helped shaped, but the way it has brought people together. Regardless of your political views, religious affiliation, race, language, or culture, for one night, under those bright lights, everyone in attendance becomes a family.

“This stadium is a magical place where you can ignore the hustle and bustle of life for a few hours,” Dawn says. “We high five strangers and then float out of the stadium back to our normal lives, ready to conquer anything.”

This feeling of camaraderie is what makes this gathering space such an important part of the community. It connects people with others who they otherwise might not have ever met. “This place, this gathering space, it opens up your mind and heart to ideas that you might not have ever entertained,” Dawn says.

Your community helps shape you into the person you become, and this couldn’t be more true for the stadium. People gather here to be a part of something great. As Dawn describes it, it is the epicenter of the town. “Sit in the stands,” she says with a sense of pride in her eyes. “You will hear cars driving by honking in support. 

You can’t avoid this gathering space. It’s front and center of this town, and people can’t help but want to be a part of it.”



FEATURES, COMMUNITY gather better together community gathering spaces fellowship coastal bend communities neighborhoods friends family farmers market picnics Rockport center for the arts Billish Park Downtown Farmers Market Calallen Football

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