Building up the community

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By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
In late July, hundreds of volunteers came to the village of Urbancrest to help construct a new playground at the Martin Luther King Park. Here, they celebrate as Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr. prepares to cut the ribbon to signify the end of their hard work.

As the volunteers wrapped up the day-long playground build operation at the Martin Luther King Park in the village of Urbancrest, a group of local children rapidly made their way over to the large structure full of new goodies.

Upon reaching their destination, the adults packing up in the shelter house nearby reminded them of the temporary rule.

“You can’t play on the playground until Monday,” they said. “The cement still has to dry.”

Despite reeling off a mournful groan, the children heeded the warning and slowly backed away from the towering slide, the crazy stairs and the insect-inspired spinners and swings that were just within their reach.

After a few minutes of chatting about how much fun they will have playing on the new equipment once they are able, Javion Collins decided he could wait no longer.

“That,” he said, pointing at the bee spinner.

With a burst of speed, his little legs launched onto the raised mulch bed and rapidly took him over to the springy insect. But just as he was settling down for a grand time, the adults raised the alarm.

“Get off of there, Javion,” they said in amused horror.

With a sad look, he got off the bee spinner and watched quietly as the volunteers began to tape
off the playground.

Erica Hampton, Javion’s aunt, said she was not surprised by the eagerness of the children to play.

“They’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” she said.

As a long-time resident of Urbancrest, Hampton said the playground was a popular destination while she was growing up despite its amenities.

“Ours was a bit rough,” she said with a laugh, “but the kids all loved to play on it.”

It was that fact that helped launch the monumental playground build day in the village.

Last year, the village council began discussing the need for a new playground. They said the equipment was too dated, too aged and too much of a burden for those who are not typically abled.

While exploring potential grant options, Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr. ran across an essay contest from KaBOOM!, a national non-profit organization that helps communities build playgrounds, and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, one of its sponsors.

After extolling the virtues of play opportunities in underserved areas, Barnes said he didn’t expect the village to be chosen as one of the build sites, but he hoped for the best.

Several months ago, the village was informed that they were one of the 10 communities throughout the country to be chosen for the build operation. Councilwoman Veronica Shepherd later called it a blessing.

“It signified that true change is taking place within our village,” she said.

Wanting to help on the build day, Shepherd came out early in the morning on July 28 to participate in the build event. She was one of over 100 people to volunteer. She said being a part of the build brought tears to her eyes.

“I have never seen nothing like this,” she said.

She recounted seeing young adults from the local high schools pitching in on the build, firefighters and police moving around large pieces, government officials using hammers and drills and people from across the country coming together to help the village bring a new playground to the community.

“This was just amazing,” she exclaimed. “I’ll never forget this day.”

As the playground build operation ended, many who reside in the village began to reflect on what this new playground means for the community.

“It means our kids have a safe place to go and be kids,” said Torelena Davis.

She said it will also keep them busy and active.

Barnes said it signifies an opportunity to make a better future for kids throughout the area, not just in the village.

“It allows kids to be kids and get to know each other outside of a classroom setting,” he explained. “They can be around each other without prejudice and begin to build their own society.”

 

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