Quintell Suggs has spent most of his 16 years without a playground in the isolated Westville Manor housing project. On Thursday he and 297 neighbors and friends from Home Depot and the housing authority built one for themselves.
After two months of planning, the playground was raised in six hours. It will transform the community, Quintell predicted.
Over the years Quintell has done some gardening work for his grandmother and her friends, but never for the whole development. “When you get a chance to do something for the world [that is, all of Westville Manor],” he said, “it make me feel good.”
So he said, while putting finishing touches at the base of the pear tree he planted flanking the spanking new slide playground.
After the Solar Youth organization applied and won a grant, the Kaboom Foundation enlisted Home Depot employees’ sweat equity and $70,000 of slides, climbing apparatus, drums, benches, tables, gravel, mulch, and plantings. A planning committee was formed.
Kids and grandparents kicked around ideas. The determination to make a place for healthful living and community-building attracted Michelle Obama’s attention. The housing authority pitched in $100,000 towards capital improvements to match Kaboom.
It all came together Thursday morning, “Build Day,” thanks to 150 Westville Manor neighbors of all ages, including 10-year-old Tyjon Watley. He helped paint checkers boards and jazzy Jackson-Pollock-y designs on the picnic tables.
“I put a lot of paint on a big brush and swung the brush, and these designs came like shooting stars around,” Tyjon said, as his friend Tywan Hoskie looked on.
The nearly 300-strong work crew included Pete Oulette, Home Depot’s store manager in Hamden. He brought another 100 orange-clad HD volunteers with him from stores all around southern Connecticut.
And it included more than 50 volunteers from the housing authority, including Chief Operating Officer Renee Dobos. She’s not carrying pizzas but sections of a future mural the kids painted and which will grace the front of the playground.
Here’s how a leaky, dirt-strewn slab became a new focus for community life:
After a design day in mid-May, the site, a square slab surrounded by buildings behind Wayfarer Street, was readied. Over two weeks in June, it was fitted with new drainage pipes, new grading, and new ramping and railings for the disabled. That was all done by HANH contractors.
On July 6 residents and volunteers organized themselves into teams
On July 7, in near-100-degree weather, footings were prepared, and delivery made of 14 inches of mulch and 12 inches of gravel.
Thursday, at 6:15 a.m., the teams gathered and deployed. One moved wheelbarrows of mulch from the huge pile in the parking lot and spread it on the site. Another team cut lumber, and then assembled picnic tables.
Jamir Suggs, Quanetta Solomon, and Tray Simms (right to left in photo) all worked on building a “peace pole,” a directional post.
Quintell Sugs and 11 more teenagers were members of the team that put in the pear tree, two dogwoods, and three junipers. They are part of a green jobs development program for kids 14 to 18 whom Solar Youth organized to care for the plantings both at the new playground and all around Westville Manor. And to teach job skills maybe for future landscapers.
“There’s a tremendous sense of pride that’s happened over night,” said Rachel Holmes, the coordinator of Quintell’s team. “They understand that once you do the work, there’s a sense of ownership that follows.”
Solar Youth founder Joanne Sciuli, who’s worked at Westville Manor for a decade, called it “a huge event for us.”
She meant transformational not only physically: “I hope it’s a new perspective for kids to understand that they’re not alone. That they deserve to have something new, beautiful, safe, and healthy.”
And how can you assess the impression on the kids that “people they’ve never met before came out to them and gave them a day of work in the hot sun?” she asked.
“A park built in six hours? I couldn’t believe it!” said resident Honda Smith, a member of the organizing committee.
But it came to pass, although before Tyjon or Quanetta can take the first official slide,the footings first have to settle for 72 hours.
As he went off to tend to some of the plantings, Quintell said, “I think this park will bring a lot of happiness.”