One playground at a time
What more could you possibly add to a Jimmy Carter Work Project, a “blitz build” of 30 homes in one week, to make it even more complete? A playground, of course. You can’t have such a spectacular new place in the works without considering where the children will play, can you? Could all of this really happen in just one week?
In 2004, the Detroit affiliate of Habitat for Humanity Detroit was selected as a host site for the 22nd annual Jimmy Carter Work Project to be held June 17-24, 2005
Fast forward to 2005, when Jan Wiley of Detroit Habitat for Humanity stepped onto the scene for this particular build and saw that there was no play area for the children, she knew she had to help make this happen. It looked as though they could renovate a park that was scheduled to be demolished. It has been built in the John W. Bloomfield Play Lot in 1951 as a memorial to honor Private First class, John Wesley Bloomfield. He had served in the United States Marine’s Fourth Division in WWII, and his mother had donated the lot to the city of Detroit in his honor.
Community partners had invested resources to build this park at the time of donation, but by June of 2005, the state of the equipment was basically rusty and non-compliant…unsafe for play. It seemed fitting to renovate this space and rededicate it to Private Bloomfield.
Wiley had been a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity for over four years, so she had seen the positive impact of the program and felt she could help enhance this and bring a sense of togetherness to this new community with the help of a playground. In doing so, it would also provide a safe place for children to play.
Wiley became the chairperson of the committee, took a week of vacation, and started raising money and researching for grants for a small structure but had enough for two structures in a short period of time. They partnered with the City of Detroit, since it still a City of Detroit Park, and got the ball rolling.
Tim Hudson, Development Director with Habitat Detroit, wrote the grant letter used for soliciting help and funds. It started out as a structure surrounded by wood chip surfacing, but with the help of Jennifer Wilcox, from St John Health Systems, a concrete donor came forward. Wilcox also helped with the fencing efforts, and so began the evolution of the project and the seeming snowball effect of bringing donors and volunteers on board. Construction and volunteer efforts were then coordinated by Vicki Crawford, President of Jennings of Michigan and her husband, Robin. “It’s amazing how many people became involved,” notes Wiley. “Thank you to all who participated.” There are many volunteers, without whom this project would not have been completed as it was, who is not listed here, but for a full list of donors, visit www.habitatdetroit.org/what/jcwp2005/parksponsors.html. Their invaluable involvement could fill several articles about this park alone.
Earlier in the spring of 2005, Wiley had met Marsha Wharton, principal of Auburn Elementary. Wharton had been planning a playground for the school and talked with Wiley about her involvement with the playground in Detroit. It just happened to be the same neighborhood much of Wharton’s family had grown up in after the family’s immigration from Poland. Her mother and father had both even attended the school in that neighborhood. So, with much family history involved, the project piqued Wharton’s interest and she became involved and thrilled to be a part of the proposed revitalization of the family’s old neighborhood.
Wharton organized a day camp experience, with the help of Lowe’s, for the children of workers and from the neighborhood to have a safe and secure place to play and still feel part of the project. Activities, including art projects, singing time and yoga were organized.
Hudson even had the approval to block off an area to provide “golf cart tours” of the project area. Volunteers from the Fort Street Presbyterian Church Youth Group and a yoga volunteer, Khalid Shakoor, who is also the first Muslim police chaplain nationally, helped out daily. See more about the Kids Camp at www.habitatdetroit.org/chapter/ournews/jcwpkidclinic.pdf. A children’s fund was started by Wharton and her family to continue the program. Over 1,100 dollars was raised with Park Structures also contributing 500 dollars as well. Seeing the calming effects of yoga on the children, Sister Leonard, retired Principal of St. Casimir, where the camp took place, though they needed to implement yoga practice for the children on a more permanent basis. With this in mine, they are now looking at an after-school yoga program and starting a nonprofit for the children to continue these efforts, which will take place in the Core City Neighborhood.
The children were involved with the playground area from the word go. Several town hall meetings were held with children and their parents giving them all a chance to vote on favorite components with the adults weighing in with a strong vote for exercise components as well.
Before long the project included something for seemingly everyone. A local health club, The Center for Yoga, donated exercise equipment with Yogis from the club donating installation. They had 25 volunteers each day from June 21 thru 25, so it was well supported by the community.
Some of the bigger monetary donors included a 75,000 dollar donation from the Skillman Foundation, Wayne County donated 75,000 dollars, 25,000 came from St. John Health System and Jennings of Michigan donated labor.
The two play structures and the Health Trails Fitness Centers were all manufactured by Park Structures, who also donated a portion of freight charges and deducted over 15,000 dollars from equipment cost. One play structure is designated for 2-5-year-old children and the other for 5-12-year-olds. It also included six swings, two bouncers, and one free-standing Max Climb. Casati Contracting also supplied the swings and spring bouncers at cost.
The surfacing is 100 percent unitary rubberized surfacing, allowing accessibility for differently abled users. It also includes cutouts of children holding hands to represent all children. Even the surfacing installation was a volunteer effort with Tim Fisher of Unique Surfacing donating all labor and materials at cost.
The area has a walking path around it with green space area for children and their supervisors alike to enjoy. Adults are able to utilize the six fitness stations while watching children at play. These stations include a sit up bench, chin-up bars, balance beam, leg raise as well as an isometric squat and vault bar.
The courtyard area has three tables. One has a chess top, and one is ADA accessible. There is also a park grill. Tim Carl, Landscape Architect with the City of Detroit approved the layout of equipment and landscaping.
The park has decorative fencing along the back and two sides with the front being open.
When the project was in the state of design, Wiley went shopping for landscaping rocks they would later place cast aluminum plaques printed with simple but effective quotes…simple enough for the children to read and understand. The three quotes found on the plaques really do represent good and simple values and ideas that can be followed by children.
1. “You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it better than you think you can.” –Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States.
2. “I have a dream that my 4 little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.
3. “In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”
—Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.
Volunteer landscape architects, including Sharon Stachecki, who drew the site plan and also Donna O’Keefe, Master Gardener who still donates her time to caring for the plants in this area.
In the midst of all the equipment, beautiful landscaping and sentiment stand a four-sided Peace Pole, which was dedicated on June 24, 2005, by Sister Mary Frances from IHM in Monroe, Mich. “May Peace Prevail On Earth” is inscribed in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Polish. The Peace Pole has become a tradition at Habitat in Detroit. The first park completed by the organization has that same inscription but in English, Spanish, Swahili, and Ojibwa, which serves this diversified area well.
Wiley and other volunteers wanted the families to be able to attend the rededication, so it took place after Labor Day. A community park committee has been created to keep kids involved with an after-school program to include fitness awareness.
To talk with Wiley about this project, she will note herself as simply a facilitator. “The volunteers were the backbone of this project.” But what if she had not made such a tireless effort to enhance this project? What an impact this has made on the community. “It truly is amazing how 30 homes and a park were built in one week. I will always remember this experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” says Wiley. “Since the first was done in June 2003, [then] Bloomfield in 2005, [and] we’re planning our next park [for] 2007. Habitat is about building homes. The park is part of the holistic approach to revitalizing a community.” It seems this project is a testament to President Carter’s earlier sentiment that.you really can “do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.” Congratulations to the many Habitat and individual volunteers and sponsors in their successful effort to bring a community together one large building blitz and one playground at a time.