All work and no play? Not anymore.

Brandeis, partner organizations build community playground in a day

Little faces pressed against window panes watched as a couple hundred volunteers laughed, cheered and huddled in small groups. Music blared. From a distance, the activity at Waltham’s Prospect Hill Terrace could have been mistaken for a party.

But there was also plenty of heavy lifting happening. Where once was just dirt and grass, a playground, benches and a raised-bed community garden arose. Down the hill, near the newly revamped community center, a mural emerged.

All in less than a day.

Together with Bentley University, the Waltham Housing Authority (WHA) and KaBOOM, a national playground organizer, Brandeis worked out the logistics for building the playground, benches and community garden at the low-income housing development on Sept. 17, and raised 10 percent of the project’s price tag. Two other partners, UnitedHealthcare and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation, donated the rest of the funding.

Volunteers came from across the partner organizations, including many Brandeis students, staff and faculty. Several Patriots players and members of the New England Revolution joined in to add some spirit.

“To me, this day symbolizes two universities coming together with a city and community,” said Lucas Malo, Brandeis’ director of community service. “Everything we do is in response to the community. The community told us this is what they needed, and were part of helping to make that happen.”

Brandeis students were tasked with doing a little bit of everything: digging the garden; painting the mural; carrying mulch; fitting brightly colored pieces of plastic together to form slides, monkey bars and swings.

“It’s so busy here this morning, and there’s so much energy,” said Avi Cohen ’15.

The playground will be a complement to other efforts already under way. Brandeis enjoys a longstanding relationship with WHA, providing free after-school programming on campus four days a week and helping to renovate the community center at Prospect Hill.

“It’s so cool to be here today, to see some of the kids faces, looking, waiting,” said Gwen Teutsch ’14, a coordinator for the Volunteer Vacations program at the university. “It took a ton of hands, but it’s definitely going to bring the community together. I’m really excited about the volunteer opportunities that will come out of this and the community center.”

Student volunteers have been working with Malo and the partner organizations for months, Teutsch said, including holding a fundraising bake sale for which Prospect Hill residents baked thousands of cookies.

“I don’t think we knew how big this project was going to be,” said Estie Martin ‘14, surveying the area with a paint-filled cup and brush in hand. “It’s pretty wild.”

Martin, who is on the Waltham Group’s budget and steering committee and works with Spectrum, said it feels good to make a tangible difference in the daily lives of the children at Prospect Hill after working with them for so long.

At a Design Day, held in August, the children were asked to draw their dream playground. They were also asked what they wanted the new mural to show. “It was a long, funny list,” Martin said, “but one thing they made clear was that they wanted the flags of their families’ native countries represented.” About 20 flags were incorporated into the mural design.

“This has been a great partnership that hopefully brings attention to Prospect Hill. We’ll be doing more projects like this with Bentley, bringing together students with two different perspectives and sets of experiences,” said Malo.  Joint projects will include a continuation of work at the Prospect Hill community center, which is currently looking for funding to begin programming like GED, ELL and citizenship courses.

If you’re interested in donating to the project or organizing a fundraiser, email Lucas Malo for more information, or call him at 781-736-3237.

Categories: General, Student Life

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