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For the children

Volunteers galore lend a hand to help kids

get a new place to play in Northeast D.C.

(Published August 13, 2001)

By JONATHAN TANNENWALD

Staff Writer

There was a festive atmosphere in the Carver-Langston neighborhood on July 31 as a much-neglected back lot bordering on Spingarn Senior High School was turned into a colorful playground in the short span of eight hours by a coalition of commercial and nonprofit groups.

Over 100 volunteers from Home Depot, NASCAR, Nantucket Nectars, Ben & Jerry’s, William C. Smith, and KaBoom! -- the nonprofit organization which spearheaded the project -- swarmed around the area, ferrying mulch, tools and playground equipment while dodging many of the nearly 500 kids who live in the neighborhood.

KaBoom!, a group headquartered in the District which builds playgrounds in inner cities across the country, has built 35 playgrounds in Northeast, Anacostia and Southwest over the last five years. Darrell Hammond, who heads the group, said Livingston Manor and Bald Eagle Park also are scheduled to get new playgrounds this year.

Home Depot chief executive officer Robert Nardelli flew in from Atlanta and stayed the entire day, doing many different tasks.

"This is a great day," Nardelli said. "It’s a tremendously worthwhile project and something that Home Depot believes in."

Home Depot officials said the company has committed long-term to its partnership with Kaboom!, which it supplies with labor for the playgrounds builds as well as money and needed equipment. The nationwide hardware retailer is currently building a new store on Brentwood Road NE, which it expects to open in June 2002.

The cooperative efforts of Home Depot and NASCAR brought a few celebrity faces to the event, most notably NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, who drives Home Depot’s race car, and Stewart’s boss, former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. Both said they were extremely happy to be there and spent a lot of time helping the construction efforts.

"It’s a lot of fun," said Stewart. "It’s nice to be able to come here and do something for the community and the kids. It makes me feel good."

Gibbs, swarmed by workers asking for autographs (and more than a few cries of "Come back!"), called the day’s efforts "neat."

"A big part of me and my family are right here in D.C. and always will be," Gibbs said. "I think it’s neat for me to come back and see people. I enjoy that, and particularly to be part of a project that’s really gonna help kids."

Gibbs currently works in Charlotte, N.C., and is head of Joe Gibbs Racing, which has two teams competing in NASCAR events.

The real effect of the construction could be seen on the faces of the smiling children. Many of them wore orange Home Depot aprons with Stewart’s number 20. At tents behind one of the playgrounds, the kids built boxes and replicas of Stewart’s race car.

Some munched on hot dogs and pizza, while others partook of the complimentary Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, a welcome relief in the hot sun. The flavor of the day was, appropriately, KaBerry KaBoom!, a flavor created by Ben & Jerry’s in association with KaBoom. A portion of Ben & Jerry’s sales of that flavor go to KaBoom! as a part of the ice cream maker’s extensive charity work.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator