DSC 0804Volunteers build a playground in six hours.

When 300 volunteers pitch in a cumulative 1,800 man-hours’ wielding shovels, hammers, paintbrushes and rakes, an empty field can be transformed into a playground in just six hours.

That’s what happened Saturday, April 28 as Alief residents joined forces with sponsors Blue Cross Blue Shield, Texans Together, KaBoom!, and The Mint Apartments to create a safe play space for kids on the corner of Dairy Ashford and Rodeo Square Drive.

After an 8:30 a.m. kickoff presentation, adults and children from across the area started working on the vacant lot donated by the apartment complex, said Shara McClure of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“It’s amazing that you can start with a field and end up with this beautiful playground,” she added. “For kids, play is so important. When we invest in communities and in projects like this, kids are more active. It’s all part of fighting childhood obesity.”

Intermediate and high school student volunteers were “tireless” in their efforts, McClure said. Of course, occasional breaks for potato sack races, balloon tosses, and flash mob dancing made the work more fun.

Hastings High School student Nehmirah Dyson, 16, and Jeffrey Williams,12, of Youngblood Intermediate School, both said they came out to help because they have younger siblings and because “it’s the right thing to do for the kids.”

“I live out here and am a volunteer in the after-school program,” said college student Lewis Pittman, 22. “We’ve been taking small steps, but this is a giant leap.”

The Mint playground was the brainchild of “Ms. Iris” Alicea, a retired City of Houston employee now volunteering with Texans Together. Alicea also helped spearhead a community garden nearby, which was named for her during the park’s dedication ceremony.

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“Everything I do, I do it with my heart,” Alicea said. “I do it for the children who need to be supported, encouraged and motivated.”

Naudy Martinez, project manager for KaBoom!, says this is the organization’s 2,088th park to be built in the United States. KaBoom! is a Washington, D.C.-based organization whose mission is to create play spaces within walking distance of every child in America.

The park, which includes playground equipment, a pergola, six garden beds, five benches, two picnic tables and an outdoor education area, took 125 cubic yards of mulch and 18,000 pounds of concrete to complete. Donations came from local businesses and organizations like the Lions Club, the International Management District, Alief Super Neighborhood Council, Keep Houston Beautiful, Academy, Costco, Party City, Shipley Donuts, Whole Foods, AAC Roofing, Home Depot, Lowes, Luby’s, Popeye’s, and Starbucks.

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KaBOOM and Texans Together Explode Into Action!

On April 28th in the Alief Community, volunteers from all backgrounds gathered together and built a state of the art community playground and gardens. This Texans Together project took months of planning, and three days of building—ending in a celebration with food, fun and music. Alief residents were building much more than a needed playground; they also were building community. Mint resident and activist Lori Dunn, said “I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to help my community and my neighbors. This has opened my eyes to how important it is to be aware of your community needs and have Texans Together that provides guidance to help me help my neighbors.”

Over 300 volunteers showed up early on a Saturday morning to complete building the playground. But the work started months earlier. Kaboom, The Mint Resident Planning Committee and Texans Together gathered to plan the project. The children in the community designed the playground with the help of Kaboom, and the old playground was demolished and the space set aside for a community garden. Residents spent months recruiting volunteers, obtaining tools, and arranging for food and drinks.

Materials were delivered and two days before the actual build day, preparation of the site began. A skeletal floor plan was laid out, parts were set up, post holes were dug..The next day, the tools were broke out and set up, team captains were trained, the mural boards were prepared for painting and the community garden materials arrived.

Many different groups came together on the day of the build; KaBoom!, Texans Together Education Fund, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Home Depot, Best Buy, Alief Really Cares Alumni Group, Mint Community Center, Alief Early College High and BNC Real Estate. Elsik, Taylor, Kerr and Hastings high school volunteers also participated in the build and the Alief Independent School District helped with logistics and parking spaces.

It wasn’t all work though; there was plenty of fun for everyone. A DJ set up and provided a beat for the whole day. The children who couldn’t help build painted murals that were set up around the playground. There was face painting, relay races and other games. The day started with early morning warm-ups, and there were breakout dance sessions for line dancing and the cha-cha slide to give people a break from swinging a hammer.

The volunteers and partners all worked on assembling the start of the art playground, but that wasn’t all that they built that day. They also built two picnic areas, shaded benches, an outside classroom, garbage containers and also constructed a community garden with six plots ready to plant.

Did you miss out on building the playground? Don’t worry, you can still help! The Mint Resident Committee that met to plan and build the playground will now meet to take the next step, managing and maintaining the playground. Don’t forget there is also a community garden that needs planting and weeding! They will use the momentum of the successful build to undertake new projects that will benefit the community and you can help. Contact : lldunn2000@yahoo.com or call 281-575-7379.