Hundreds of volunteers create instant playground

Hundreds of volunteers wondered if they could put together a playground in less than a day.

After six hours at the site in the La Loma neighborhood, they had their answer: "Yes, we can."

That translates roughly to "Si, se puede" in Spanish, a fitting motto given that the event Saturday was in part a celebration of Cesar Chavez Day.

The work took place at Moran Estates Park, on Encina Avenue just west of El Vista Avenue. The park was created in the 1960s and showed its age. The 400 volunteers assembled new playground equipment, planted a vegetable and flower garden, and painted a mural of the late farmworker leader.

"Look at them -- look at how involved they're getting," said his grandson, Juan Chávez Villarino, who came from Santa Cruz for the event and helped with the concrete mixing. "They did a good job trying to get people motivated and meet a deadline."

The event was the 1,385th coordinated by KaBOOM, a national nonprofit group that works to build playgrounds and other recreational projects.

The La Loma Neighborhood Association was heavily involved, too. Money and other help came from businesses, the city of Modesto and the state.

The project was one of 10 around the state this year in honor of Chavez's birthday, which is Monday.

The Modesto work got under way just before 9 a.m. Trucks had delivered the playground pieces and other materials, but Saturday was mostly manual labor.

Some volunteers put the swings and slides and monkey bars together. Others used shovels and rakes to move cushioning wood chips under the play structures. Still others used hoes to mix concrete in wheelbarrows, which then were dumped to create footings for the structures.

The volunteers broke for lunch, then went back at it, some of them coated in concrete dust or wood chips, many of them soaked in sweat despite the cool weather.

By 2 p.m., an hour before the deadline, it was clear that the effort would succeed.

"When I saw how many people were here this morning, I knew it would get done," La Loma resident and volunteer Laurie Neumann said.

So, all work and no play? Not on your life. The volunteers chatted and laughed as they worked. The crew leaders wore silly hats. Music blared from a CD player all day.

"It's just so organized and fun," said Neumann, who helped with the preschool play structure. "They did the chicken dance and the YMCA dance."

La Loma resident Andy Fiskum was the event's volunteer coordinator, a rank he signified with a sequined top hat and fake Coke-bottle glasses. By early afternoon, he could tell that all the effort at the old park was paying off.

"I'm very happy," he said. "I have a 6-year-old, and she said, 'Take me to the park, but not that boring one.' This one is much better."

As 3 p.m. approached, the pavement was hosed down and the last of the playground bolts were tightened. The organizers asked everyone to gather for speeches and the ribbon-cutting.

Mike Moradian, president of the La Loma group, thanked the volunteers for putting up with "the sweat and the cement, and the wood fiber in your shoes and in your nose."

Chávez Villarino also spoke to the crowd, with a reminder of César Chávez's belief in the power of workers coming together.

"To be part of something greater than yourself -- that's something my grandfather stressed with a passion," he said.

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.