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5509: Volunteers build new playground in one day (fwd)
Published Sunday, November 12, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Volunteers build new playground in one day
Home Depot gives supplies
`It's a beautiful thing for all of Little Haiti. And now our kids don't
have to go away to play and have fun.' ALOURDE PIERRE, parent
BY DRAEGER MARTINEZ
Most people consider the joy of children as something priceless. So did
a task force of volunteers who teamed up to build a joyful place -- a
playground in Little Haiti. The volunteers built the playground in a
single day, Tuesday, and it opened Thursday to the adoring smile of
local kids. ``I can't even put into words how grateful I am for this,''
said Leonie Hermantin, executive director of the Haitian American
Foundation. ``When I walked in on Tuesday and saw
200, 250 people pounding on nails and sawing wood, my heart just
swelled with pride. The playground was glowing, and the colors were
coming alive.' Home Depot provided most of the materials and volunteers.
But some neighborhood residents joined in, such as Alourde Pierre, 28,
who returned for the opening with her 10-month-old daughter Emy.
``I helped install the slides, because I think it's important for the
community,'' said Pierre, who also has 4-year-old twins who will play at
the park, her son Convington and daughter Convingly. ``It's a beautiful
thing for all of Little Haiti. And now our kids don't have to go away to
play and have fun.'' There was a colorful crowd on hand for the
dedication, held at the playground site between 130 and 150 NE 79th St.
Also in attendance: NASCAR sensation Tony Stewart, as well as officials
from Home Depot and Washington, D.C-based nonprofit KaBOOM!.
``We do a lot of community activity, because our employees get so
pumped up about helping,'' said Pedro Mendinguren, Home Depot's vice
president of Florida operations. ``The community is helping us grow and
thrive, and we want to repay the favor. We've worked with Habitat for
Humanity for about five years, and this is our 32nd playground with
KaBOOM! nationwide.'' Added Stewart, who will defend his Pennzoil 400
racing title today at the Homestead-Miami Speedway: ``Having Home Depot
as my sponsor has been one of the best experiences of my life. That
association has helped me grow as a person, through their association
with Habitat for Humanity and now KaBOOM.' The Little Haiti playground,
bursting with slides, crawl tubes and pretend racing cars, marked the
234th facility built by KaBOOM!, which specializes in playgrounds for
under-privileged neighborhoods. ``We do for playgrounds, what Habitat
For Humanity does for houses,'' said KaBOOM! CEO Darell Hammond, who
founded the group five years ago. ``We're volunteer-based, with a large
sweat equity component, working in low-income areas across the U.S.''
Hammond said elsewhere in Florida, the nonprofit group has built a
playground in Dania, several in Orlando, one in Tampa with Home Depot
help, and a low-income day care center in Key West, built in partnership
with ice cream company Ben and Jerry's. Hermantin called the playground
a long-overdue offering for the impoverished Little Haiti community.
``There's an acute lack of parks in this community,'' Hermantin said.
``There's no pools, no tennis courts, nothing central like Morningside
or Tropical Park.'' She added that while she and other Haitian-American
leaders have appealed to government for help, in this case they found a
solution in the corporate world. ``We have to stay creative and find
more good people like Home Depot and KaBOOM! We will also work to
identify funding for the park's annual operating expenses,'' she said.
As a group of about 30 children lost themselves in the playground's
pleasures, Hammond beamed with pride and satisfaction. ``For us, it's
more than just a playground -- this is really about civic pride and
community and corporate pride, too,'' he said. ``This is a definable
project and it's a solution. And I love the looks on the kids' faces.''