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"Unity is strength… When there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved." — Mattie Stepanek

In my previous columns, I tried to make a case for the importance of supporting local businesses and organizations. This month, I would like to highlight a local project that shines through collaboration and teamwork and involves many layers of our society, from the federal government to the individual volunteer next door. For this project to come to fruition, many minds came together to plan this out, and many hands have to get to work to make it happen. A new and improved accessible playground at Casey Park is on the horizon; it's a community playground in the truest sense of the word because our community members are, in fact, going to build it.

This one hits home because it literally is close to my home and heart. This park was a factor when we bought our house nearby. It provided recreational activities for us before we started a family. My daughter was already cruising around the walking trail and the community pool with me before she was even born. Ever since then, Casey Park has become for us a frequent year-round destination for playing, walking, swimming and sledding. And since school has started, the playground and the surrounding park area is often visited daily for recess, reading, art, gym and science activities — and let's not forget field days at the end of the school year. Playgrounds might not come to mind when thinking about economic development, but they certainly are a significant quality-of-life factor in a community, which in turn spurs economic development.

While other playgrounds have seen upgrades over the years, it is now Casey Park's turn to get an overhaul. And what a memorable project this will be. It's much more than shiny new equipment to the tune of $200,000 that the city invests by allocating federal funds; it's the ideas of children and the sweat equity of community volunteers that will make this project special. City staff and their design firm took the time to meet with Casey Park students, get them excited about a new playground and gather their ideas for what it should look like — after all, they will be the most frequent end users. And if you ever wanted to teach a lesson about the power of community involvement, all you needed to do was capture the students' facial expressions when they got to see the final design elements and realized that many, if not most of their suggestions were actually incorporated into the future playground. The playground will be between 10,000 and 15,000 square feet and include equipment for children of all abilities and ages 2 through 12. A tree house, a castle, a climbing wall, a dog house (for Casey, of course) and a zipline are only a few things that the kids imagined on paper and will soon be able to enjoy. Efforts are also made to include public art elements, which will be another way for children to get involved and make this playground their own.

But the part that probably makes this project stand out the most is the fact that the playground will be built entirely by community volunteers — in six days! And this is where you come in. Whether you are skilled with tools or not, whether you have tools and materials to donate, whether you want to be part of this by yourself or bring along co-workers or friends, or whether you want to support the volunteers by bringing food and drinks — every contribution helps and is appreciated. I, personally, can't think of a more rewarding way to spend a few hours of my free time, knowing that I can help create something lasting for the children in our community that will encourage exercise, free play, creativity, teamwork and collaboration.

Here is how it works: From Tuesday, May 1, through Sunday, May 6, the community build is broken down into three shifts per day: 8:30 a.m. to noon, 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. and 5 to 7:30 p.m. It would be great to have 80 volunteers per shift to assemble playground parts, spread mulch or distribute food and drinks among the volunteers. Over 300 volunteers have already signed up for one or more shifts or days, but more are needed. It's easy and convenient to sign up online for shifts at signupgenius.com/go/60b084fa8af2ba0fc1-casey. You can also call the city's planning department at (315) 255-4115 or contact Renee Jensen or Tiffany Beebee at rjensen@auburnny.gov or tbeebee@auburnny.gov.

Monika Salvage lives and owns a communications business in Auburn. She can be reached at liberty1307@yahoo.com.

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