Another Voice: Building gratitude, the community reward of constructing Children’s Park

Park volunteers during its rebuild; a reopening event will be held Sept. 22

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
Park volunteers during its rebuild; a reopening event will be held Sept. 22

One of my favorite aspects of the new Children’s Park are all of the slight imperfections that exist when you look closely.

The one-eighth-inch discrepancies or the not-quite-straight lines that one can spot given close examination paint a picture that shows how a group of mostly amateurs came together to create this big, beautiful play-thing.

I was asked to write on what the build was like from my perspective as the volunteer coordinator. When I sat down after the build was done to put those thoughts to paper, all of my introspection resulted in gratitude.

First, I felt appreciation for the city for taking on this project as a community build in what almost assuredly made the job harder than what it would have been if it were just another city project. Giving us the opportunity to share in this experience, to connect with each other and with our own community, was a gift that I will value for many years to come.

I had profound thankfulness for the group of community members that came before us, 26 years ago, who built the first park. We would not have the amazing park that we have today had it not been for those community members, many of whom came back this second time to help build it all over again.

And I had so much appreciation for the volunteers. Cheryl, who found time to come help between the end of her graveyard shift and her late morning bedtime. Kym and Mark, who had put so much into the original park yet still gave as much to us as they could this time around. Joe, who was putting in his hours while his wife was due any day with a new child for their family, so his children would have an amazing place to grow and play. It was humbling to see so many hard workers willing to step up. There were crew leaders willing to come to almost every shift, people like Terina, Dave, Dawn and Martha, as well as Bob and Don, who I swear I saw so much that I thought we must be paying them.

There were the people willing to step into a leadership role, many of whom followed up months of meetings with an almost 24-hour per-day commitment while the builds were going on. Megan, the city council member, who took this on as a project that became larger in scope than any of us expected. Travis and Mark, representing the city, who did everything in their power to accommodate the volunteers who were willing to come do the work in 10 days that would have taken their skilled crews several months. Greg, who helped get us funded. Emily, who helped get us supplies, tools and equipment that kept our build going while somehow pulling a crane out of thin air. Art, for being our “ideas” guy and for being an inspiration in his commitment; Sue and Denny for looking after our kids and generously offering their accommodations at Vineyard Church; and Ross and MCAR (Mid Columbia Association of Realtors) for working with the local restaurants and food trucks to keep all of the volunteers fed and happy.

I was grateful for all of the individuals, local businesses and groups who helped donate towards the park, the local contractors who came and gave us hours of free skilled labor, the groups like the Gorge Roller Girls and the breweries that sent crews out, the larger local businesses that helped organize their companies to provide strong volunteer showings, the restaurants that prepared and donated meals for us and the local hardware stores that donated far more to our build than they asked us to buy.

I felt gratitude for the teachers like David and Nan, who saw this as a learning opportunity and brought their students to help out on a site where many of those teens had grown up playing tag. And to those same students who were tasked to dig holes on the first day only to be given the job of filling those same holes back up later in the week.

I was thankful for Savannah, who helped organize the pep rally for the original park so we could celebrate for a few sunny hours in April and give a proper farewell to the old park before it was taken down. Then there was MacRae, the artist who harnessed the creativity of the children to honor the original build with a fantastic mural utilizing the old wood from the first park. And I could not forget the kids who wanted to help build their new park so badly that they found joy and pride in soaping over 20,000 screws so the adults, many of whom were their parents, could drive the screws into the boards just a little bit faster.

There were times when the volunteer shifts were light on man- and woman-power that I felt frustrated. But mid-way through the first build week, as I got to know some of the return volunteers, to share conversations with neighbors I had only ever waved to, or to see two strangers who ended up on the same task hit it off and laugh together, those feelings of frustration dissipated. We had several hundred different people come through and I got to meet every one of them; I got to meet the members of our community who were willing and able to find hours in their day to come give of themselves.

And in the end, our community got it done. Having been in the position to witness all of the giving that had gone into making this park a reality, all I could see were reasons to be grateful.

Jace Castello and his wife, Cynthia, and son, Cooper, spent many hours coordinating labor and putting in their own elbow grease on the Children’s Park project.

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