They built it in one day
Sometimes the spirit of man is amazing when called upon to perform feats that seem physically impossible. Such fortitude was displayed on Oct. 29, when a force of approximately 200 men and women, some with little or no construction experience, were asked to build a playground for children in one day at the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield. And they did.
Called Kern Inspiration Playground, it truly was, as national nonprofit playground designer KABOOM! came to Bakersfield on Sept. 1 and asked local school children to draw pictures of what they would like to see in the playground. KaBOOM then set about designing the playground, which was financed through a grant from Albertsons Sav-on. When the clock struck 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 29, Albertsons made its physical presence known, as approximately 155 volunteer workers from stores in Bakersfield, Paso Robles, Ridgecrest and the San Fernando Valley came ready to build. They were joined by volunteers from the Kern County Superintendent of Schools (KCSOS) Office and parents of students enrolled in the KCSOS Supplemental Autism after school program at the museum and at Valley Oaks Charter School.
Superintendent of Schools Christine Lizardi Frazier's opening remarks fueled the already pumped up atmosphere when she told the eclectic assemblage, “What you are doing here today is building a playground for children who have had no playground (in reference to the autism students schooled next to the playground). All they have had to look at is dirt. That is why you are here. So when you get tired at the end of the day, remember why you are here. Now, let's go build that playground.”
And they did, as teams. Each team had an animal mascot name. There were the Snakes, Camels, Zebras, Elephants, Toucans and so on. KaBOOM's Kenny Altenburg assigned tasks to each team. Some team chores were glamorous in scope. Others were not so glamorous, but every bit as vital.
“Team Fish you will be building Kids' City,” Altenburg shouted, as he barked out assignments. “Team Monkey you will be moving 100 cubic yards of mulch...by hand. Team Paw Print you will be setting the borders, which includes mixing 10,000 pounds of concrete…by hand.”
Hard labor was on the horizon, and to make sure everyone was physically up to the demands, KCSOS Adapted Physical Education Specialist Maria Steele led the group through a series of stretching exercises to warm up their muscles.
Contrasts in working styles and construction experience were evident everywhere you looked. Furiously pounding nails into a wooden frame, Patty Steven took a breath and praised her father in the construction trades for teaching her well. Approximately 50 feet from her, parent volunteer Nicolle Bott was taking direction as she went about using a power drill in construction of a free-standing wooden structure. “This is my first time using a drill,” Bott said. “It's a lot more difficult that I thought, but it's not bad.”
Putting together another structure, Albertsons Central Coast Vice President Dennis Bassler, stopped every once and a while to watch his army of blue clad store volunteers. “We are here because we are part of this community, and we are a company that believes in giving back to the community,” Bassler said. “We want to help the kids and putting smiles on the faces of those kids makes all this hard work worthwhile.”
This is the seventh KaBOOM project this year in which Albertsons Sav-on has been a partner. Since 1995, KaBOOM! has used its innovative community-build model to bring together business and community interests to construct more than 1,600 new playgrounds, skateparks, sports fields and ice rinks across North America.
Ramona Puget, who manages the Supplemental Autism Program at the museum, was another smiling volunteer. “I can't express in words how much this will mean to the kids,” Puget said. “All week they have been asking, 'Is it coming soon, is it coming soon?' When it would rain, the dirt in the play area would turn to mud. It's hard to keep children with disabilities confined. This playground will allow them to go outside and participate.”
At the end of the day, the workers had lived up to the challenge. As Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall and Kern County Supervisor Mike Maggard got ready to cut the ribbon, Altenburg reminded everyone that Kern Inspiration Playground is not just for the autism students and those at nearby Valley Oaks. It is also for the more than 10,000 children who will visit the non-profit museum in the upcoming year and years into the future.
Perhaps Bassler summarized the volunteer effort by his employees best when he said, “Because Albertsons is your store, we are building their (the children's) playground.”
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