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California City Solutions: Community Involvement Key to Success of Rancho Cucamonga’s Freedom Courtyard

May 23, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Rancho Cucamonga’s Freedom Courtyard was submitted in 2013 for the Enhancing Public Trust, Ethics, and Community Involvement award category.

The city of Rancho Cucamonga and its residents had a vision to create a reflective area to commemorate and pay tribute to past, present and fallen members of the United States Armed Forces. This vision turned into reality when the community joined together to fundraise and offer contributions to the design process and tributes for the city’s Freedom Courtyard.
In spring 2010, city staff partnered with a Community Project Team — comprising representatives from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and various community leaders — for a series of workshops to gather feedback on the design for a centralized civic and cultural art project honoring their local service members. The community named elements and amenities they would like included in the tribute and wanted a place that would enhance their community and add patriotic pride.
Workshops produced a preliminary concept reflecting the design purposes, goals and parameters established by the community. The Park and Recreation Commission and Rancho Cucamonga City Council later approved the plan.
The city also needed funding. Keeping consistent with national veteran memorials being community funded, the Community Project Team took on the fundraising effort with the support of city staff and a partnership with the Rancho Cucamonga Community & Arts Foundation. The multifaceted community-based fundraising campaign ultimately raised approximately $315,000 for the project.
Catherine Bridge’s initial donation of $25,000 became the basis for a fundraising campaign including various donor level packages and engraved tribute bricks and pavers for purchase that would line the walkways of the courtyard.
The community also wanted to provide a commemorative art piece. Ralphs/Food 4 Less awarded the community project a $25,000 grant which went towards the addition of a beautiful two-sided sculpture “Monument to Military Families” by artist Timothy Schmalz. The sculpture is a representation of those waiting at home and those serving and is anticipated to be part of a national monument program.
A local architectural firm, WLC Architects, Inc. and RJM Design Group, Inc., collaborated in volunteering their talents to support of the Freedom Courtyard project. The architects assembled the ideas and created a unified vision which was overwhelmingly approved by the community during a public workshop that culminated with a standing ovation when the drawings were unveiled.
Before the Freedom Courtyard was planned, the city had initiated a display of hometown support for local service members in 2007 with its Armed Forces Banners. These service member portraits hang on more than 350 light poles on major thoroughfares. Family and friends gather at the service member’s banner, with up to hundreds of people present, to share their grief and stories of love and remembrance. Although the city has compassion for the victim’s friends and family members, it also must consider how the obstruction of candles, glass and mementos left in remembrance can cause a public safety concern for the pedestrians on the roadway and sidewalks. The new Freedom Courtyard offers a safe location and welcoming environment where family and friends could still gather for such remembrances.
City officials also decided to meet with local Gold Star Families (families of fallen soldiers) during the planning stages to present design ideas and gather feedback on a special Gold Star tribute area within the courtyard. These families felt that the tribute area should also include Blue Star (active duty) as well as Gold Star service members as all soldiers (fallen, past or present) are heroes and deserve to be honored as such. In response to this Gold Star family member design meeting, the Gold and Blue Star Recognition Walls were added to the project; a tribute to honor all armed service members.
On June 26, 2012, the city hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for Freedom Courtyard. The initial construction phase included the Flag Court, a Military Branch Tribute, Blue & Gold Star Recognition Walls, the Monument to Military Families Sculpture, a Memory Box, and also the installation of tribute bricks and pavers that were sold as part of the fundraising campaign.
Freedom Courtyard opened on Jan. 12, 2013 with a ceremony attended by more than 800 people. The event included active members of each military branch, a local school band and choir, and a special tribute by loved ones sharing stories and being honored with bricks and pavers in the memory of those who had made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
The completed veterans/armed forces courtyard area includes a quiet, passive area to think, reflect and understand the invaluable service provided by the Armed Services and Veterans, and an opportunity for visitors to individually and privately reflect on those who have honorably served their country, learn about the country’s major wars/conflicts and honor the branches of the services.
Freedom Courtyard is a public-use facility designed by the community for the community. It is estimated that more than 18,000 visitors enjoy the courtyard annually. The city plans Memorial and Veterans Day celebrations at the event location to honor its veterans, aiding to mitigate public safety concerns and use of resources for gatherings at Armed Forces Banner sites.
The Freedom Courtyard project was designed so that elements identified by the community can be added over time as community fundraising efforts and stakeholder relationships permit. Additional elements are expected to be funded by corporate gifts, institutional grants, and gifts from individuals, families, and trusts. The city is responsible for the maintenance and improvements necessary to maintain the courtyard and future additions.
The partnership between the city and the community was vital to the completion of this project. Community input ensured that the city provided a tribute that was a direct reflection of what the community wanted and what residents needed in order to experience an enhanced quality of life and provide an appropriate community gathering place to honor local military members and veterans. The community, residents, veterans, and military families now have a central location at which they can celebrate and honor the achievements and sacrifices of those they love and cherish most.

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