"Find a way to get your community to bond together; Don't give up!"
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Good morning! Sorry this one is a little late in getting out, sometimes work requires going the extra mile you aren't expecting. Speaking of going the extra miles, that's what Castleberry Hill AC is all about. Wynn Pennington took some time to discuss the clubs efforts to not only build a field, but a community space as well for the betterment of their neighborhood. And if you live in Atlanta, reach out to him. The first phase of this volunteer fueled build is next weekend. Check it out.
Tell me a little about yourself. Who you are, where, you're from, and what your role is with Castleberry Hill AC.
I am a native Atlantan and have lived in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood for 28 years. In that time I have seen this neighborhood change from an urban wasteland into a thriving, dynamic neighborhood full of residents, restaurants, and art galleries.
The Castleberry Hill Athletic Club was formed in 2014, during the world cup. A group of my neighbors would gather to watch the matches and that group turned into a USMNT supporters group.
This group then started weekly community pick-up matches on a neighborhood vacant lot, which then grew into weekly community gatherings/grill-outs, with players and spectators. Within a year we were volunteering as a group for community needs like neighborhood clean-ups, monthly Art Strolls, Loft Tour ambassadors, pondering the youth STEM Robotics team at our nearby community center, and more. The Club decided to incorporate as a 501C3 non-profit in 2015, formed a board of directors, and elected me as the first president. I was one of the founding members.
How did you come to be interested in soccer in general, and Castleberry Hill in particular?
I played soccer in my youth, and played semi-pro in my late teens/early twenties. I stepped out of the game for the next 30 years and built a career in the wine business.
I purchased my building in Castleberry Hill in 1989, and waited for about 10 years for the neighborhood to grow into what it is today. I love what Castleberry Hill has become and all of my neighbors.
We are now a diverse, multi-cultural neighborhood, with so many talented individuals that have all contributed to the success of the Castleberry Hill Athletic Club. It is truly a team effort.
What do you tell someone who doesn't know just what exactly Castleberry Hill AC is?
We are a grass roots organization, focused on building community through athletics and community involvement. We formed an official soccer team and entered in to adult leagues last year. We also have teamed up with the Georgia Soccer Association and Soccer in the Streets, a national soccer organization providing mentoring and support for under-privileged youth and refugees. We are also a socially active group, sponsoring neighborhood events and gala's, promoting neighborhood involvement. We will use "Old Trenholm" for after school youth soccer programs with Soccer in the Streets, and for adult league play. We will also build a community pop-up space adjacent to the pitch for community events like outdoor movies, art shows, and more.
What's the story behind Castleberry Hill and the efforts to build Old Trenholm?
When we started the neighborhood community pick-up games in 2014 we utilized a vacant lot in the neighborhood we nicknamed "Groinpull Field". It is a rough patch of land with exposed pipes, concrete, holes, and many other injury inducing elements. We looked for another, safer site, and found "Old Trenholm" in the south end of our neighborhood. We immediately adopted it, cleaned it up, tilled the soil, and created a miniature pitch.
We approached the land owner and negotiated a 6 year use of the property, rent free. We then went to the City of Atlanta and began the permitting process to break ground and convert it to a 8v8 sized pitch, with a community pop-up space attached. 20 months later, after petitioning the city to change the zoning of the property to allow a soccer field, we have finally secured our land disturbance permit. We are now actively securing donations through our gofundme page, local business sponsorship's, and membership drives. We are also actively recruiting volunteers for the groundbreaking on Nov 19-20th. With in-kind donations, sponsors, and memberships we have raised over $300,000 dollars, but we still need more to secure lighting, fencing, and sod.
How are you hoping the Athletic Club and the Old Trenholm field/community space will help continue to improve your neighborhood?
In addition to providing a new, safer space for our weekly neighborhood gatherings and soccer pick-ups, it will give us a designated green space, which we don't have in the neighborhood.
What kind of events are you hoping to use Old Trenholm for once it's completed?
We plan to use the space to create more community involvement and events with outdoor movies, chili cook-offs, art shows, neighborhood garage sales, Castleberry Hill field day, etc.
Will there be a league that Castleberry Hill AC can play in since it will be 8v8, or will you start your own league for 8v8 neighborhood teams?
We will offer it to 7v7, and 8v8 leagues.
In 2015 the CHAC started playing in the Sons of Pitches league (under 30, 7v7), here in Atlanta. We now play in an over 30 league. (And we are also league champions, the last 3 seasons in a row now, I believe, and currently in the play-offs). We plan on putting out another under 30 team in the spring of 2017, giving us 2 teams in league play.
Once Old Trenholm is completed, we will do after school soccer programs with the Georgia chapter of Soccer in the Streets, and will rent it out for adult league evening play.
We have discussed starting a league, and probably will in the future, but haven't moved on it yet.
We will do soccer tournaments too. We did our first one last March, teaming up with "Dragon Goals" (an enclosed 3v3 outdoor pitch) since we didn't have a safe pitch.
Through Soccer in the Streets, we sponsored a youth tournament for kids in nearby neighborhoods, here in downtown Atlanta. That tournament will now be at "Old Trenholm".
When are you hoping to have this entire building project completed?
For the soccer pitch, I think April 2017 would be a safe estimate. We are trying to get sod donated. If we don't, we will plant seed in November, and that will need to establish.
The community pop-up space should be completed and ready for use in December this year.
Just in time for 'Christmas in Castleberry Hill.' Where can people find out more about Castleberry Hill AC and get involved, either as volunteers or to donate?
Go to our website: www.castleberryac.com. There you can view our proposal with our project overview, our current community involvement, sponsorship levels, and site plan with drawings and renderings.
To volunteer for the build out November 19-20th, click on the Facebook tab on our website home page and it will take you to our Facebook page. You can post there to volunteer.
To donate, go to www.gofundme.com/helpbuildtrenholm. It takes only a few minutes to donate and all donations are tax-deductible.
For information about memberships you can click on the membership card tab on the home page.
We will be updating our website soon to enable us to accept memberships and sell our scarves, jerseys, and other merchandise on-line.
What three things would you tell someone looking to do a similar community team and space type of project?
Community: Find a way to get your community to bond together. For us it was the 2014 World Cup. We didn't realize there were so many soccer fans in Castleberry Hill.
Consistency: Make sure you keep doing your community events, whatever that may be. Ours was weekly community pick-up soccer matches. This builds your community's involvement. As more and more people hear about what you're doing they start to attend. As you grow you will find that you have a diverse talent pool in your community that can help get a project like this done.
Commitment: Don't give up! It took us 20 months to get through the zoning amendment and permitting process to get Old Trenholm built. We had no idea it would take that long.
Why should people get out and support projects like Castleberry Hill when they have the chance? How is that important not just to soccer, but to the community as a whole?
I feel supporting soccer at a local level only helps to build the American fan base of soccer on the national level. If you can get your community to work together on any project it only helps to build more community involvement, and friendships.