PORT CHESTER, NY - Inspired by a tragedy that hit close to home—one Westchester police officer is serving his community in a very personal way.
In June of 2017, Port Chester honor student Chris Aguilar died after he fell through the roof and down the elevator shaft of an abandoned Port Chester hospital while adventuring with some friends. The 14-year-old was an avid skateboarder and, according to Police Officer Kenneth Manning, the teenagers present had their boards with them that fateful day.
Manning grew up a few blocks from the hospital—skating on the same streets—and was a first responder at the scene of the tragic accident.
“They were like me when I was younger—they were looking for a place to be, looking for a place to hang out,” says Manning. “So it really hit home.”
Manning saw a void and vowed to do something about it. He is now spearheading an effort to build a 10,000 square foot public skate park in Joseph Curtis Recreation Park in his native Port Chester.
“If you actually look at the skating community, that’s a big part of it—they look out for each other and they help each other because most of the time, that’s all they have,” says Manning.
The effort has really resonated with its intended target.
“Once you see a good cop doing something good for the community—everybody’s going to like it and the community can come together,” said Port Chester High School senior, Blayne Cameron.
“It’s going to help kids stay out of trouble,” says another friend of Aquilar's, Port Chester High School senior, Patrick Murphy. “I mean if there was a skate park back then some of the stuff… might not have even happened.”
The project also has the backing on a vert legend behind it--gaining some serious momentum after Manning reached out to the Tony Hawk Foundation--which seeks to create skate parks in low-income communities.
"They've been a plethora of resources," says Manning. "They've helped me 100% of the way, every step. Through the politics--the meetings... what questions are going to be asked in a public forum about this--the pros, the cons--they gave me all the ammunition I really needed to succeed at this."
Hawk himself even pitched in at events in Port Chester aimed at raising money for the project and his foundation granted Manning with a donation of $25,000.
Manning has received approval for the project and while he is expecting a sizable grant from the county, he has currently raised $40,000 -- roughly 10% -- of the $400,000 needed to build the skate park.
"I think that is the most challenging--the fundraising. You know, what we really need right now are the people to step up that have been skating their whole life--that have made it in life and do have the extra money that want to show the children this is something that guided them in life," added Manning. "It's a very large amount that we need to get and for such a community, you really can't pull more out of these people's pockets than they have. So we really do need that handful of donors to step up and help out the cause--especially if it's touched their lives, ya know?"
The park is set to be dedicated in Chris’s memory and Manning hopes to start construction sometime in 2021.
“This has just been a win-win for the police department and the community," said Port Chester Police Chief, Richard Conway. "We’re really happy about it."
For more information on how you can help, visit: www.portchesterskatepark.com