Hundreds of volunteers in Hands Across the City project build KaBoom! playground, spruce up Grand Rapids parks, schools

KaBoom! playground equipment Garfield ParkVolunteers with the Hands Across the City project build KaBoom! playground equipment Saturday at Garfield Park.

GRAND RAPIDS — Bright pink, green and blue butterflies protruded
from Bill Dix’s faded orange baseball hat as he walked around Garfield
Park on Saturday.

The hat was whimsical, but Dix took his task as a volunteer leader seriously.

He was helping the “butterfly team” assemble a small rock wall for the new done-in-a-day KaBOOM! playground at the park.

Dix is development coordinator for Exodus Building, a residential
program that helps formerly homeless or incarcerated men transition
more easily back into society.

“A couple of them grew up here, you know,” Dix said of the men from
the shelter who were helping out. “That’s one thing we really encourage
— volunteering around the building and around town.”

On Saturday, he and four men from the home joined 430 other volunteers who participated in Hands Across the City, an all-day outreach event sponsored by the United Methodist Metropolitan Ministry in conjunction with Grand Rapids Parks Department, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and the Garfield Park Neighborhood Association.

About 300 volunteers installed the playground at Garfield Park.

Another 130 people fanned out to clean 11 other parks and schools
around the city, including Aberdeen Elementary, Briggs Park and Lincoln
Park, said Jay Steffen, parks director for the city.

The goal of the Hands Across the City, which also includes a
citywide “rethink church” billboard campaign, is to encourage mixing
church with community service, said the Rev. Julie Dix, the ministry’s
executive director and Bill Dix’s wife.

Most of the funding for the playground came from a community
development block grant, which was matched by the Garfield Park
Neighborhood Association, Steffen said.

KaBoom! playground mulch Garfield ParkVolunteers
Elena Brubaker, 18, left and Cesia Rodriguez, 20, carry mulch to the
new KaBoom! playground Saturday morning at Garfield Park.

The $76,800 playground, designed by neighborhood children, is the
sixth park project Grand Rapids has completed with KaBOOM! and
community organizations, Steffen said.

Letting community members have a say and a hand in building the playgrounds has kept vandalism at bay, he added.

The corps of volunteers made quick work of the project. At 8:30
a.m., an intimidating mound of mulch rested next to the gutted play
area. Shiny blue and green poles waited to be assembled into walkways
and ladders. By 11 a.m., most of the mulch had been spread on the
ground, and familiar playground forms had begun to take shape.

Third Ward commissioner Elias Lumpkins leaned on a cane and watched
from the sidelines as teams began to tackle the project. He remembered
doing similar community projects in the past and noted how quickly
things get done with a lot of volunteers.

“Nothing is impossible if you don’t have to do it yourself,” Lumpkins said.

Garfield Park’s was the 1,823rd playground KaBOOM! has built since the Washington, D.C.-based nonproft was founded in 1995.

E-mail Kaitlin Shawgo: kshawgo@grpress.com

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