Joel Guerrero spent all his life in Kingsbridge. He went to P.S. 86 and then the New School for the Leadership and the Arts.
When it came time, he went to college, taught himself computer science, and graduated from Stony Brook University with a bachelor’s in business management.
“Heading back to Kingsbridge Road after graduation, I noticed we lost the community,” Guerrero said. “The same people that were the ones who were igniting social inspiration and the social recreation were now just too busy for those things.”
Guerrero, however, was not too busy for those things. He’s always busy, to be sure, presenting at a tech showcase at Lehman College or working with one of the four different tech development teams he’s helped found. But he’s never so busy he forgets to give back to the community that helped raise him up.
That is why Guerrero is taking on his latest project much closer to home: Revitalize Fort Four Park’s basketball courts.
It’s the park across Sedgwick Avenue from Guerrero’s high school, and one he had spent hours upon hours playing basketball with his friends growing up. Now that he was gone and back again, the park was lacking something.
So Guerrero asked around. “The most common answer I got was, ‘We need more color.’”
Guerrero got to work. He started fundraising online through Ioby, a nonprofit organization in Brooklyn he says focuses on equipping community leaders with the tools they need for projects “in our backyards.” In response to his fundraising efforts, Ioby and Con Edison have agreed to match up to $5,000 in donations.
So far, Guerrero has raised more than $8,000 to resurface the court and replace the backboards, rims and nets. His goal is $20,000.
Last September, Guerrero shared his fundraising efforts with Community Board 8’s parks and recreation committee. On the agenda that night was a discussion of designs for a new restroom in the park — something committee chair Bob Bender said has been in the works since the late 1980s and is still not likely to be completed until 2022. Guerrero, in the meantime, presented the opportunity for improvements to the park much sooner.
“They came with the idea of renovating the park and they were already finding sources of outside money,” Bender recalled. “Which is a lot more than somebody just coming in saying, ‘Hey, can’t we fix up the basketball court?’ They’re coming back with a plan.”
Like most things in the city, there is a bureaucratic process involved in getting a project of this scope done. At that September meeting, Bender introduced Guerrero to parks department officials, who encouraged his fundraising efforts.
While nothing is set in stone, Guerrero and the parks officials reached out to a city-approved contractor, TBO Sitescapes, for an assessment of the project. In total, the Bayside-based company estimates resurfacing and painting the courts will cost $30,000, while replacing the backboards and hoops will cost $33,000.
While fundraising in the community gives Guerrero the most pride, he knows he needs additional funds to complete this project. So far, he’s reached out to Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilman Fernando Cabrera, whose districts include Fort Four Park. Guerrero believes he can fund more than half the project through community and nonprofit contributions, as long as the city provides $28,000 for the rest.
Guerrero also started talking to Dan Peterson, founder of Project Backboard, a non-profit that redesigns basketball courts across the country with images designed by local artists. Peterson, a Putnam County native, spent a week in New Rochelle bringing the blacktops in Lincoln Park to life. The National Basketball Players Association provided some funding for that project.
Peterson estimates any custom art may bump the final project cost up to $75,000.
“I’m always very encouraging of people to take the lead,” Peterson said. Guerrero is a lot further along in the process than most people are when they first reach out to Peterson, he added. “He’s getting close to potentially making it a reality.”
For now, Guerrero continues to hustle.
“I want to help people see what’s happening here in the neighborhood,” Guerrero said. “There are people making change.”