Volunteers in full swing

Play area construction is in full swing

Playground: Family, friends and strangers break ground on a site honoring a 6-year-old killed in 2003.

September 11, 2005|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Megan Cumpston worked with four schoolchildren to check the depths of postholes, which numbered in the hundreds.

When the depths were deemed sufficient, another group followed and placed the posts, giving rudimentary shape to a project that has galvanized a community determined to honor the memory of a girl whose life was tragically cut short.

"It's amazing and overwhelming to see all these people here," said Cumpston, fighting back tears. "It's very emotional."

Cumpston, whose 6-year-old daughter Annie was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2003, joined about 115 volunteers Friday for the first day of construction of Annie's Playground at Edgely Grove Farm.

On a warm, overcast morning, volunteers gathered in groups, led by one of 20 captains, at various stations designated for the different parts of the 60,000-square-foot project.

While some volunteers were busy with the posts, others nearby cut wood and prepared playground equipment to be installed throughout the weekend.

"It was hard driving out here to the site," said Tom Cumpston, Annie's father. "But once we got here and saw all these people who took time off work to come and help us, it was worth it. ... That shows they care, and that means a lot to us. Seeing all of these people come together makes you stronger, and it makes it easier to get through it."

About $400,000 has been raised for the project, one of the largest playgrounds ever undertaken by the architect, Leathers & Associates, which is based in Ithaca, N.Y., and specializes in playground construction. A two-story treehouse will serve as the centerpiece of the playground, which will also include a rock-climbing wall, a half-size baseball field, an amphitheater and a memorial garden.

Though the spirit and effort of the volunteers was evident, the turnout Friday fell short of the 200 to 350 organizers sought. Although more are expected on evenings and weekends, volunteer coordinator Kym DiPeso said many four-hour shifts for the 13-day project remain to be filled.

"We have so many wonderful people out here, but we need so many more," DiPeso said.

Work on the playground continues today and Sept. 21 to Oct. 2. Work takes place from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

DiPeso said there are jobs for anyone who wants to volunteer.

"We need all skill levels," said DiPeso. "We need people to do everything from filling wheelbarrows with stones and moving them to carrying lumber, to child care and food service."

Even children in the onsite child care will take part in activities that contribute to the playground's completion, said Michelle Smoot, child care coordinator. One such project is creation of a mile-long paper chain.

Smoot said children younger than 10 will work on the chain. The completed chain will be strung around the perimeter of the playground and cut during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Children older than 10 helped graphic artist Anne Kennedy, who is serving as art coordinator, paint wood cutouts of shapes including flowers, bees, artists easels and brushes to be used throughout the playground.

"I'm making hundreds of these cutouts, and we're letting the children paint them," said Kennedy, who was Annie's Girl Scout leader. "We want them to be able to walk through it and remember what they did."

Many of the children working Friday were from St. Margaret's Catholic School, which Annie attended.

"So many people from there have done so much to help us," Tom Cumpston said. "We could not have gotten through this without them."

Parish member Trice Pew said she wished she could do more to make the playground a reality.

"I can't wait to use it for years and years as my children are growing up," Pew said, "and, be thankful that my kids are still here with me to enjoy it."

Kate McGann, Annie's aunt, was nearby working as a captain.

"We have 12 days left to go, but the playground committee and the volunteers have spent two years getting to this point," she said. "We have all these incredible people out here who never even knew her, and they are still out here doing their part. It doesn't bring her back, but people will know who she was."

Food coordinator Tony Profit was ready and waiting for the lunch break. He started setting up Thursday and arrived at 5:30 a.m. Friday to prepare breakfast for the early workers, serving bagels, doughnuts and coffee. So far, 30 restaurants have donated food for 30 of the 39 meals to be served during the 13 days of construction.

"We have had thousands of dollars of items donated," said Sharon Perfetti, the project coordinator. "We are serving meals to about a 1,000 people per day. We still need to cover about 9,000 meals, but people have been so generous I'm sure we'll get what we need."

The first stage involves getting the posts set and the deck frames in place, said Jeb Mead, construction coordinator for Leathers & Associates.

Tom Cumpston said the project seems to be falling into place as though it were meant to be.

"The amazing thing is that even with a project of this magnitude, everyone here came this morning and just seemed to know what they were doing," the Jarrettsville resident said. "People of all ages, young and old, are doing what they can to make this playground a reality. Annie impacted so many lives, and this project and this place show that."

To sign up to volunteer, visit www.anniesfoundation.org. Information: Sharon Perfetti, 410-557-3777.

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