Volunteers labor in sweltering heat to rebuild Fontana Park

By Bob Otto
Los Angeles (September 6, 2007)- The two women with sweat beading up on their faces didn’t look tired, or act tired. But they were tired. An hour earlier, Carol Bland and Ashley Kusmitch had finished their 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift at the north Fontana Target store. And here they were at 9 a.m. on their “second shift,” assembling a rock-climbing wall at North Tamarind Park. And they weren’t alone. More than 300 volunteers gave of their free time on Aug. 30 to rebuild the old park.

“We got off work and came right over here,” said Kusmitch. “We want to feel a part of the community. We’re here until it’s done.” Home Depot stores from throughout the Inland Empire provided the bulk of volunteer labor, while its partner, KaBoom!, led the construction effort. KaBoom!, a national non-profit, builds playgrounds within walking distance of children living in underprivileged neighborhoods.
“We (KaBoom!) have a great relationship with Home Depot,” said Whitney Hampton, KaBoom! project manager. “We compliment each other well. To start with nothing this morning and get to this is great.”
But the “get to” part took an incredible amount of work — under a relentless, burning sun in sweltering 115-degree heat. Yet, volunteers like Leo Chavez kept working away, drenched in sweat. But he didn’t complain. “It’s good for the kids,” he said, while he dug away.
As Chavez dug a three-foot hole for supporting posts for the monkey bars, North Tamarind teacher Liliana Johnson and her fourth grade class looked on. They watched from a tree-shaded knoll above the play area Chavez worked in. “It’s good for the kids to see the work being put into the park for them,” said Johnson. The school lies right next door to the park. So throughout the day, classes rotated an hour at a time to watch the park’s transformation. “It feels cool to watch them build our new playground,” said Guadalupe Castillo, 9. “I like the new slides best.”
When the volunteers had finished in late afternoon, they had assembled new slides, monkey bars, swings, and rock climbing walls. They rolled out 12,000 square feet of lush, green sod. They spread out 180 yards of yellow mulch around play areas to soften the falls of children playing. They mixed concrete and pushed heavy loads in wheelbarrows to waiting masons. They erected a sign that said, “Welcome to your Playspace.”
And they painted a gazebo. “I like the colors (orange, black and white),” said Karla Meza of the south Fontana Home Depot as she painted trim. “I’ll bring my daughter to show her what we made, and let her play.”
The park also has a special theme. Since it is close to the California Speedway and within a racing community, the park inherited a racing theme. The Home Depot sponsors Joe Gibbs Racing, and between the two, they created the national “Racing To Play” program two years ago. Through Racing to Play, The Home Depot has committed $25-million to KaBoom! to build and refurbish 1,000 playgrounds in 1,000 days by the end of 2007. But North Tamarind Park wasn’t picked randomly. It all began when North Tamarind Elementary third grade students wrote letters to Mayor Mark Nuaimi, asking him to please do something about their pathetic park. The mayor and the city agreed to help. Then the United Way Hands On Inland Empire led a drive to bring aboard The Home Depot — and that led to KaBoom!’s involvement.
And once the powers had united, the project surged forward. “This is our third project in Fontana,” said north Fontana Home Depot Store Manager Sam Alviso. “They get bigger, better, and more organized each time. First it was Home Depot, but now we’ve got organizations like Target and Starbucks all starting to help.”
But the orange, Home Depot T-shirts dominated the work force. They were everywhere — assembling, shoveling and painting. And among the orange crew was Ricardo Munoz from a Home Depot in Chino. Munoz hired on about four months ago — not long after he finished his tour with the Army fighting in the Iraq War.
“It feels great to help build this for the kids,” said Munoz. “These are very lucky kids. I wish Iraqi kids had this. Their playgrounds are shot up or broken. The kids are limited where the can go. They are stuck in between one sect against another.” But not so at North Tamarind Park — thanks to a united effort. “Before we could only run and play soccer,” said Paul Rascon, 9, who lives near the park. “Now me and my friends will play on (playground equipment). It looks nice.”
For the full story, visit Fontana Herald News.