All told, 8-pools and 7 community centers were going to close for the summer, because the City of Houston didn't have the money to keep them open and operating.
Houston Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee went to work to find resources to keep them open. She made a few phone calls to the energy industry, and succeeded. At Independence Heights Park in east Houston, Jackson Lee announced that Marathon Oil and ConocoPhillips stepped forward with a check for 350-thousand dollars. Eileen Campbell is vice president of public policy for Marathon Oil Corporation.
"When the congresswoman came to us, she said 'We have a problem in Houston and this is an emergency. We've got to keep our pools open. We know the mayor's doing the best she can to balance the budget of this city, and we need to have a balanced budget.' This is part of Marathon's values, and we live our values day in and day out, and what our values are is helping neighbors, neighbors helping each other."
The donation from Marathon and ConocoPhillips will keep the pools and community centers open for the summer. I asked Mayor Annise Parker that with her experience in the energy industry, if she could have made the same calls that Jackson Lee did:
"I was making calls, a lot of folks were making calls. I'll give all the credit to the congressmember for bringing home the deal with Marathon and ConocoPhillips. This is excellent on her part, and it's not a matter of who does what or who takes credit, it's the fact that we got the job done."
Independence Heights is located in CM Ed Gonzalez's district. It is the only community that had faced the loss of both its pool and community center. As a former police officer, Gonzalez knows what could happen to kids with idle time.
"It's just a formula for disaster, and we need to make sure we keep them engaged. We want them to be doing physical activities. We have childhood obesity is a growing issue in many communities, so we want to make sure that they're having access to fun and positive type of activities such as swimming, and a busy park and community center is also a safe one."
Now that the pools will remain open, the Houston Parks Department is looking to hire a few more lifeguards. You can find information at www.houstonparks.gov.