By Joel Hall
Riverdale Presbyterian Church has become home to a diverse collection of congregations and non-profit organizations. Those include Nigerian, Hispanic, and Messianic Jewish ministries, as well as AWESOME, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to the character development and mentoring of young children.
Until recently, the only playground equipment available at the church dated back to the 1960s. On Friday, KaBOOM!, a nationwide, non-profit organization; Kool-Aid, the soft-drink maker; and about 100 volunteers from across metro Atlanta came together to build a new, safer place to play at the church.
Elaine Connally, co-founder of AWESOME (Adults Willing to Support and Encourage Ongoing Mentoring and Education), Inc., contacted KaBOOM! five years ago with a proposal for a new playground. After some initial fund-raising difficulties, Connally is "ecstatic" the project has finally gotten done.
"It's been a long vision in the making, but it's a reality today," said Connally. "All of these ministries ... we share this space, so at any given time, there are families and children on this playground. It was very unsafe, and we said we needed to get away from this."
Friday, against high winds and a light drizzle, volunteers mixed concrete, carried lumber, hammered nails, and assembled equipment designed to the specifications of children enrolled in AWESOME, Inc.
In less than six hours, volunteers were able to assemble a full playground activity center with a swing set, a planter's bench, and an outdoor classroom, complete with a chalkboard.
Christine Jackson, a KaBOOM! project manager, said she was "incredibly surprised by how much work was done in such a short amount of time."
"The community has been very excited," said Jackson. "We had a design day eight weeks ago and asked [the children] to draw their dream playground, and from that, we came up with this design," which includes swings, a rope bridge, and climbing walls.
"Our goal is to not only bring a safe place to play for the community, but to encourage the community to come together to build that safe place," Jackson continued. "They have worked really hard to get us everything we need."
AWESOME, Inc., has pledged to raise $7,500 for the playground and Kool-Aid donated $30,000 worth of equipment and supplies.
Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon, State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale), and other Riverdale officials were present for the playground's ribbon cutting once the work was finished. Children will have to wait until Monday for the cement to dry on their new playground, however.
Volunteers, like Brik Treasures of Riverdale, welcomed the new playground.
"I remember when I was a kid, I didn't have a playground in my immediate neighborhood," said Treasures. "Going to a dirt field everyday is fine, if that is all you know, but if you have something better, that's even better.
"Kids will be able to use this for years on out. I don't know how many kids will use this playground, but they'll be happy," Treasures said.