GRESHAM, Ore. – On a warm night in May 2014, Gresham native Ricki Ruiz went out for a post-meal jog.
Ruiz stopped in local Vance Park to take a water break when he noticed some kids leaving their bikes and scooters outside of the old roller hockey rink at the edge of the park. The kids climbed over the fence, threw down their sweaters and jackets to mark makeshift boundaries, switched on the flashlights on their phones, and began to kick a ball around.
“I saw it and I was just like, 'Gee, I used to do that when I was a kid,'” Ruiz recalled. “I think a lot of my friends who are from Rockwood neighborhood here could relate to that because we came here and we used to play the same way these kids play.”
At the time, Ruiz was interning in the offices of Multnomah County and he took the idea of renovating the court to his boss. Shortly thereafter, he formed the Rockwood Initiative to begin applying for grants and raising the money necessary to renovate the court.
Only 13 months after Ruiz first had his vision of a safe playing safe for Rockwood's youth, that vision become a reality. Now, thanks to Ruiz and Fields For All, the Portland Timbers collaboration with the Timbers Army's Operation Pitch Invasion (OPI) and generous community sponsors, residents of the Ruiz's Rockwood neighborhood celebrated on Tuesday at a special opening the opportunity to play on two brand-new futsal courts, called SNAKE Court at Vance Park, on a first-come, first-served basis.
SNAKE is an acronym for “Sports, Neighborhood, Action, Knowledge and Empowerment.”
Nearly all of the project’s $100,000 costs were covered by Fields for All and generous community sponsors adidas, JELD-WEN Windows & Doors, KeyBank, Pendleton Woolen Mills, Providence Health & Services, Ross Electric and a partnership between Let’s Play, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Active Children Portland and KaBOOM!.
“When I see this beautiful surface and I think about how many kids are going to come here because we took the time to listen to one young man's vision and collaborate with the Timbers and all these people...I'm so proud of my community,” said OPI member Shawn Levy at the court's unveiling. “This is what we do as a community. This is for the kids and the people who live around here.”
Levy took the opportunity today to announce that Fields For All has committed to building a field or surface like SNAKE Court every year for the foreseeable future, noting that Fields For All has already identified a site for its 2016 project.
Like Levy, Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson noted how proud he was that the Timbers could help Ruiz realize his vision.
“This is one of the greatest things we do,” Paulson said of the team's program. “If you just look at the field grants alone that we've made to build fields to serve underserved youth in communities that need the help, it's over $600,000 that we've dedicated to that. Those are lasting legacies that we're going to continue to create and maintain to make sure that youth and, specifically, youth of need have constructive outlets.”
Paulson also spoke about the excellent partnership Fields For All has with OPI and The Timbers Army.
“The ethos of philanthropy and of community give-back is so alive and is something they walk, they talk, they breathe, they dedicate man hours,” he said. “It makes me so proud to be affiliated with such terrific supporters and such terrific fans.”
For Ruiz, the day's events were simply surreal.
“It's something that I never imagined was going to happen,” he said after the ribbon cutting ceremony. “I think I'm dreaming, but it's actually a dream come true. It's been in the making for over 10 years and it's finally happening today.
“I hope we see a lot of kids come here and play, hopefully have them make their own teams and their own leagues and tournaments.”
Before the ceremony, Levy gave Ruiz a hug and turned to a group of onlookers. “This is Ricki's project,” he announced.
Ruiz flashed a demure smile.
“No,” he told Levy. “This is our project.”