There’s a transformation happening on McKinney’s east side. Behind it: police, popsicles and a persistent presence.

Positive change in the low-income area is rarely more evident these days than on a summer Thursday. As the burning sun sets on Fitzhugh Park, they appear from behind old, one-story houses.

Black, white and Hispanic saunter up to the blue and white tent. It’s another Popsicles in the Park.

“We are a continued presence weekly in their neighborhood,” says Carol Wood, co-founder ofCitychurch, an east-side ministry that started the summer gatherings six years ago. “That’s making a huge difference.”

This week signaled the end of Citychurch’s seasonal initiative – dubbed the “Jesus Loves You Celebration” – complete with free hot dogs and face-painting. Park-goers ranged from toddlers to high school seniors.

Around 125 kids show up every Thursday evening. Volunteers and food come from area church groups and Market Street. About an hour into it, parents and neighbors come check out the racket.

It’s safe, wholesome racket, the kind atypical for the city’s most crime-ridden sector.

“They do great stuff for the community,” says Cecilia White, a Market Street employee, handing a blue raspberry popsicle to an anxious boy. The Eldorado Parkway store partners with Citychurch, also providing fresh fruit and bread for its Sunday worship service at a nearby warehouse.

Citychurch plans to build its own facility across the street from Fitzhugh, a small property off Lindsay and Rockwall streets. But most of this congregation barely has money for food, much less an often relied-upon offering.

As Thursday’s celebration gets underway, police squad cars creep by. It’s not unusual in this part of town. Just last week, as kids played at the park, crime scene tape surrounded a nearby home – someone had been stabbed.

But the police presence is different this time. Sirens off, a cruiser stops at the curb. Two decked-out officers bounce toward the commotion.

Cpl. Dustin Kincaid and Officer Randy Patton, both white, strike up laughs with young Langston Michelle, a little black girl chewing off the top of her popsicle. This isn’t the picture so many across the nation are painting.

“Just building the community relationship and trying to break down some of the animosity, the fear of police a lot of people have,” explains Kincaid, part of McKinney PD’s neighborhood police unit. Chief Greg Conley quickly implemented the traditional-style patrol when he took the department reins in early 2015.

“It gives the kids a good, safe environment to hangout,” the corporal adds.

Others toss the pigskin in an open field, their Citychurch friends nearby playing Ga-Ga Ball. The fenced-in dodgeball-type game draws a ring of spectators.

“I come for the games,” says Tony Trevino, a student at McKinney ISD’s Vega Elementary. Charles Swanegan, this game’s winner, says he’s there because “lots of people always come.”

A Christian-based lesson concludes each Thursday evening. But tonight is about celebrating.

Cruel reality will set in for some back at home, a few blocks away. It’s delayed – even forgotten – for a couple of hours, though.

Heartache and hardship remains on the east side. It’s just a little less obvious these days.

And it’s not what’s on young residents’ minds as they pass Fitzhugh Park.

“It’s a calmer peace here even more so than it was a few years ago,” Wood notes. “The blue and white tent, that’s a beacon in this neighborhood.”