By Punita Patel
It’s amazing what a difference a couple of places to sit can make.
Before the school ended last year, we acquired two benches and a trash can from Gateway Greening as they were purging their storage. Dr. Wuch, Mr. Thomas and I decided to put them close to the playground under the great sycamores. This area gets a lot of parent traffic during the school year in the mornings and in the evenings. Kids love playing in the dirt under the trees since the grass will not survive under it. Neighbors often stroll through after hours with their dogs. Yet, this area had very little seating.
Our first step was to make this a more welcoming area. Since we were on a shoestring budget we worked with what we had. School kids mulched the areas and I got some awesome giant tree stumps for sitting and hopping. We relocated a patio table and chairs from the garden out front to the back by the sycamore. Dmitri Kabargin, a parent of a 2nd grader, offered his expertise and time to secure these benches over the summer. It saved me a ton of time that I would have otherwise spent researching and learning how to get this job done.
This summer I was working with Dig It STL, a youth employment program of Gateway Greening. The majority of the Dig It crew was high school kids from St. Louis city. Gateway Greening’s goal with Dig It is to provide a job training opportunity for kids who come from disadvantaged background. The program offered these students a minimum wage and equipped them with necessary hard and soft skills they will take with them to their future jobs. So, when this bench install project came along, I knew it would make a great lesson for Dig It crew. I was glad to hear that Dmitri was willing to work with our crew even with his busy schedule. The biggest challenge turned out to be coordinating schedules to find a day this summer that was dry enough to pour the concrete. Toward the end of the program, we caught our lucky break and poured the concrete to set the benches. Things have a way of working out.
About a week before school started, Dmitri and I finished up the project and bolted the bench down. It was rewarding to see Ms. Jackson and our new librarian Ms. Lewis under the sycamores enjoying their lunch on the salvaged patio furniture. We got them to test out our newly installed benches as well. They are “Jackson approved.” The next time you are at the playground try out the table and benches for yourself.