More than 200 volunteers build playground, community garden at Rockwood Station Apartments

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ROCKWOOD STATION APARTMENTS - More than 200 volunteers built a playground, community garden and other smaller features at Rockwood Station Apartments Saturday. City officials joined the group for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the afternoon.

Hammering, soul music and cheer filled Rockwood Station Apartments Saturday.

By 2:30 p.m., more than 200 volunteers dressed in teal T-shirts had built a playground and community garden in the complex’s courtyard.

“It’s almost like an old-fashioned barn raising,” said Betty Dominguez, program director for policy and planning at Home Forward, a public affordable housing corporation serving East County.

Along with Home Forward, the project was led by Foresters, a life insurance provider, and KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit organization that leads more than 150 playground builds per year.

Rockwood Station residents and community volunteers from throughout the Portland Metro Area joined the organizations for the build.

For residents such as Tabitha Medina, the effort brought new connections and dreams for what the space could become.

“This feels like the first time I’ve seen a strong sense of community here,” said Medina, who lives with her 2-year-old daughter, Harmony. “I hope it brings people together.”

Earlier this year, KaBOOM! selected Rockwood Station Apartments for a playground build. In May, the organization invited children to design their dream playgrounds.

They let their imaginations run wild, with many of their ideas making it into the official design.

Before last weekend, the complex had an outdated playground suited to children ages 2-5, but the kids wanted something larger and suited to all ages.

KaBOOM! looked at the most popular features, presented them to an architect and incorporated them into a design. With the $7 million commitment Foresters has made to KaBOOM! builds since 2006, the project became a reality.

From 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, volunteers mixed more than 13,000 pounds of concrete; added 2,400-square-feet of playground space and prepared a playground officials estimate could serve 15,700 children and their families.

“They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day but in just one day you have charted a new course for the kids and families in Rockwood,” said Gresham City Councilor Lori Stegmann. “What I really love about this project, is that this is an amenity not just for Rockwood Station, but for the entire community.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - Mackarius, 4, helps his mom, Rebecca Jones, a Southeast Portland resident and Foresters volunteer, sand a garden box at Saturday's build.

Rebecca Jones, a Southeast Portland resident and Foresters volunteer, built and sanded a garden bed with her 4-year-old son, Mackarius, while a group of friends from Lewis & Clark College shoveled a large pile of mulch faster than they’d ever imagined.

“It’s a nice way to bring together people who would’ve never otherwise talked to each other together,” said Dylan Stringer, one of the Lewis & Clark students.

The new aqua, plum and beige-colored playground features swings, a spiral slide, monkey bars, a rock wall, a spring horse and a three-tiered ball hoop.

And the community garden will allow residents to grow their own food onsite.

Besides the larger structures, the group constructed benches, picnic tables and a foursquare court, while children designed cement tiles, helped build birdhouses and created thank you cards for volunteers.

“We get to enjoy more with our friends,” said resident Salma Pacheco, 8. “The playground before was so little that we couldn’t do much. It was pretty boring.”

Salma and her friends said they also were excited to have a new garden “to help their plants grow.”

Michael Buonocore, deputy director of Home Forward, noted that one of the goals of the project was to break down a sense of separation in Rockwood and make Rockwood residents feel like more than a part of apartment complexes on a busy street.

“This is not just for kids to play, but for the whole community to come out of their apartments and get to know each other,” Buonocore said. “It’s not always the place people think of as a strong community, but I feel like this place (the new playground and garden) really belongs to them and they will create that sense of community.”

Gresham City Councilor Mario Palmero volunteered throughout the day and later returned for an afternoon ribbon-cutting with other city officials.

“If we are going to be successful in building better communities, we are going to need to take the example of what happened at Rockwood Station Apartments’ playground,” Palmero said. “Here, we had hands-on citizen participation, cooperation between multiple nonprofit organizations and local government. This project highlights how we plan to revitalize Gresham. I am proud to be a part of it.”

The Rockwood Station Apartments are at 19100 E. Burnside St., Portland.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ROCKWOOD STATION APARTMENTS - The new Rockwood Station Apartments playground incorporates ideas kids generated at a design day event in May. Volunteers added 2,400-square-feet of playground space.

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