On Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, nearly a hundred volunteers from around Atlanta traveled to Hapeville, Georgia to build the city’s first playground.
It was the last day of our warm Southern fall season before Sandy’s freezing temperatures set in, and every face of the friends and neighbors gathered on the grounds of El Nazareno Presbyterian Church was smiling.
At 8:30 am, after cars had been squeezed along the skinny street of North Whitney Avenue and arranged in lines across the gravel parking lot of the church, every volunteer reached for a hand, formed a big circle, and began to pray – even though most of the people couldn’t understand the prayer Pastor Nelson Donado spoke, giving thanks to God in Spanish.
El Nazareno (which translated from Spanish means “Jesus Christ, the Nazarene”) is a church commissioned by the New Church Development Commission (NCDC), which has its headquarters in Midtown. NCDC Executive Director, Reverend Sara Hayden, headed the planning and fundraising process with the help of many eager supporters and friends.
El Nazareno church, still what some would call a “budding” congregation, already has 25 members under the age of 12, and before Saturday, only a gray, sandy terrain for a play spot. Needless to say, the playground will be a relief and great joy to the congregation. In fact, throughout the day, toddlers and kids wound their way around the site of the soon-to-be-established play set, looking on with anticipation as the slide, tunnel, tire swing, and telescope-look-out-tower began to take shape.
"I'm gonna be the captain of that ship. I'm gonna go zoom!" said Christopher Glash, age 6, of El Nazareno.
The children were the inspiration and beauty of this building project, and they were not excluded from the construction process. Kids knelt around the 2x4s nailed together to form the perimeter of the garden bed, and carefully laid the roots of basil, lettuce, pansies and other buds into the soil. They received a lesson in keeping plants hydrated, and then began a beeline across the campus, dodging power cords and piles of fresh-cut lumber, shuttling Publix water bottles from the snack table to the garden to hydrate their new plants.
Volunteers divided into teams for the day’s work, each led by a team leader who held up a sign showing a picture of the project, so both Spanish and English speakers could understand.
“El mas importante,” said a female member of El Nazareno, smiling as she held up her sign for the kitchen, designating that she was leading the cooking team for lunch, “the most important” team.
Other teams worked on: painting the sanctuary and nursery rooms, renovating the landscape, remodeling the tool shed into a children’s playhouse, raising a basketball goal, and constructing park benches and picnic tables, the pavilion, the sandbox, the playset, the swingset, and permanent trashcans.
Like a dream come true (but not without bumps along the way and a few extra runs to Home Depot), by 5 pm nearly every project was completed! What a sweet reward it was to watch the El Nazareno kids clambering up and down, in and out of the new playset for an hour after construction was finished, and a group of teenage boys throwing hoop after hoop of basketball on the new goal just a few yards over.
Hayden and Donado concluded the day's work by shaking hands in front of the new street-side park sign, which reads, "Nazareno Park… All are welcome in this place."
The park will be open during daylight hours for anyone who wants to drop in, and the congregation of El Nazareno hopes it will create a safe place for families to come and relax and connect with each other.
The day's adventure was truly a testament to the fruitfulness that so often comes from partnership and community support. Volunteer Theresa Phillips of Shallowford Presbyterian said the project reminded her of the barn raising tradition, when everyone in the community comes to help one family build its barn. "They say it takes a village... this village is everyone, we're all God's people."
"It's wonderful and so special to have all these different people together," said volunteer Nancy Phillimore, of Shallowford Presbyterian, who spent some time that day with one El Nazareno toddler in her arms.
"[Helping people] is what I love doing," said John Watson of Morningside Presbyterian.
The project was successful only because of the generous giving and collaboration of friends and neighbors. Sunday school classes, church missions committees, families and individuals gave what they had—financial donations, or manual labor for building day, or special construction skills.
One supporter donated money to purchase the new basketball goal. She wrote in an e-mail, “My daughter played basketball in college… basketball holds a special place in my heart. To give kids the opportunity to play basketball in a safe, loving place makes me smile.”
Overall, contributors raised more than the required $25,000 to bless Hapeville and El Nazareno Presbyterian with this park. What better picture of community is there? Pastor Donado said, “Es algo historico!” (This is something historic!) He was referring to the inspiring display of unity among believers in the midst of this time of polarity in the church and in society. It was a grand example of Christians putting aside their differences and coming together to celebrate what we have in common, the love of God and neighbor.
To help more with the El Nazareno / Hapeville playground, e-mail Sara Hayden.