Tuesday, August 12, 2014

...And 7 hours later, we'd built a playground in Oakland

Last Friday, I joined forces with many of my Disney-company counterparts from ABC7 News, Disney Store, Lucasfilm, Disney Interactive and more around the Bay Area to build a "dream playground" for the kids of the Millsmont neighbourhood in Oakland, CA.

Thanks to incredible organization and dedication of KaBOOM!, councilwoman Desley Brooks, the City of Oakland, and Disney VoluntEARS, we somehow managed to get it from (pretty much) start to finish in 7 hours!

A few weeks before, local kids from the Millsmont neighbourhood met with a "design team" to get their ideas on paper and design their dream playground. And last Friday, we built it!

We got there nice and early and got divided up into teams, and were immediately rollin' on our tasks. I was on the "Lettuce" team and our job was to spread gravel in the area which would eventually house the planters/vegetable garden. We also tamped the ground and made it nice and level, with expert guidance from the experts at the Oakland Parks Dept.

Let's do this!
"Oy, how are we gonna mix all these bags of 80lb concrete?!"
Nikki believes in us
Pre-work selfie
Making new friends from other Disney companies :)
Hard at work
Lynda taking care of business
Party time
Look, we see ourselves on the ABC7 News Live feed!
After a great morning of spreading and tamping, we were asked to go help the concrete mixing and pouring team; they had 30,000 lbs of concrete to get through, and it was incredibly hard work! This turned it up a NOTCH. This work was way harder but also super amazing. I was quite keen to use this time off to do some much needed away-from-my-desk-epic-exercise as well as donating my time to a local community service project... so the more intense the work, the better! And oh man, was it epic!

Mixing the concrete was a tough job but lifting the concrete bags was the hardest. They were 80 lbs each, and I must have lifted about 40 of them all afternoon! That rocked. "Lift with your legs!" As we continued the hard work with truly excellent construction workers supervising us and directing us, it was really satisfying to see the playground turn into reality. I moved around a lot after eating some very tasty lunch they provided, and tried the herb garden planting, shoveling, and ultimately went back to lifting concrete bags, pouring water and mixing concrete, and (my favourite activity), taking finished wheelbarrows of concrete from the mixing area and dumping it into the playground structure foundation.

The playground is turning into something real...
Epic dragon slide! And some of our fancy concrete work
Planters for flowers and herb garden
Lucasfilm gets the job done!
After an awesome 7 hours of work, councilwoman Desley Brooks told us that the building behind her was burned down 12 years ago, soon after she became the councilwoman for this district. She said one lady asked her way back then "when will it be rebuilt?" Desley told the lady that "there just isn't any money to rebuild this park" -- and she said she knew that was a bad answer and she would work hard over many years to change that reality.

Councilwoman Desley Brooks talking about her Oakland District and how they will benefit from our work
Later she not only got it rebuilt and did other work in the park, but she organized all the work for the grant to make this park build happen this past week. She seems like an incredible and dedicated lady (her banner says "tireless", that's a perfect adjective!) and certainly made true on her promise to rebuild this park.

I met a man at lunch who was participating from the Oakland community, and asked him how he got involved. Turns out he is a preacher at a church in Oakland, where "we get drug dealers, and people in gangs, and everything. We welcome everyone." What a bunch of amazing people. This man was really an incredible person too, really funny, and a kindhearted soul. It was awesome to meet people like him there, and people who came with the optimistic spirit of making their community better. He told me this park used to be overrun with drug dealers, and he was hoping this project would really help continue to turn it around and make it a welcoming, safe place for Oakland's children and families. The spirit and dream of making the world a better place is something I care a lot about, and it was beaming from all the smiles and sweaty brows at this great event.

We did it!!
Sweet rock climbing thing, and that slide rocks
Impromptu dance party
Planting some tasty basil
Concrete mixing
Before and after!
Dan Ashley and a whole lot of very recognizable faces from ABC7 News were there as well, and some of the news team REALLY got into it! One of the guys I recognized was mixing concrete for at least a couple of hours, the hardest job and the messiest. It was great that everyone really got into the spirit of the event.

As Dan Ashley says in the above video, "there is much more we could all do to lend a hand where it's needed... it's a drop in the bucket, but at least it's a drop. Volunteerism can change the world, literally. Good people did something good at Concordia Park today... but there is much more to be done, and we should all resolve to do our part." Beautifully put!

I loved this event and it was especially fantastic because of the extreme good nature and organization of all the people who planned it and donated their time and effort. We arrived, most of us had no construction experience, and we all worked hard together for the same cause, for a more positive future for some children and families that we will most likely never meet. This is the real aim of "tikkun olam" (lit. "repairing the world"), and as Dan Ashley so finely puts it, we should all resolve to do our part. There is a lot more work to be done, if only we make a small amount of time in our busy lives, get out, and do it. I was surprised with how much I was able to do with no prior experience, and I urge you, dear reader, to try joining a volunteer effort like this. It was awesome, and enjoyable on many, many levels.

Finally, here's some more great coverage of the day, courtesy of ABC7 News:

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