The Joy, Struggle and Satisfaction of Volunteering with the Houston Playground

BY David Stern-Gottfried

In February, 2013, I found a note on my door.  It was a plea for new leadership to support the Friends of Houston Playground.  Having lived in West Mt Airy for only four months, perhaps it was my craving to connect with a new community or simply my curiosity to get involved that peaked my interest.  On MLK day of that year, I showed up at the Houston Playground’s day of service with a rake, a shovel, and a desire to contribute.


One month later…surprise, surprise…I was the new president of a small group tasked with the stewardship of the playground.  I was fortunate to quickly find a few other neighbors with small children interested in fostering a healthy community space for play. Our early meetings had 10-14 people, all interested in our vision:  Going beyond just maintaining the playground and engaging the school and surrounding community as a center for free spirited self expression. The passion of those early meetings is something I won’t forget and it still drives me to stay involved.

Well, the honeymoon phase dissipated when our meeting attendance dropped to 4 or 5 people, and we began to realize the uphill battle of raising money and the effort involved just to provide basic care of the playground.  If you were to visit this playground, you would not believe that neither the City nor the School District takes care of the Houston Playground and that they contribute no money to its wellbeing.  Caring for the playground is entirely maintained by the community (parents and neighbors, teachers and students).  That realization certainly caused us to feel alone and concerned that the playground would end up closing on our watch due to lack of interest and funding.

Nevertheless, we got going and rolled up our sleeves.  A series of successful community events last year bolstered our support of the playground:  a large community garage sale at the playground, a small work day in the fall with lots of turnout, and, recently, a solid partnership with Houston’s Home & School Association.  The in-roads we made with the Houston School community led to the successful raising of enough money to provide another year of play to the children who enjoy this wonderful playground.

A few weeks back, on Saturday, May 17th, the culmination of our team’s outreach and hard work led to a wildly successful work day, where we spread 60 cubic yards of mulch (that’s a lot of mulch!), oiled all of the wood structures, cleaned the grounds, and fixed broken equipment.  The outpouring of volunteers exceeded my expectations and shattered whatever doubt I had left that this group couldn’t pull off what we had set out to accomplish.  Aside from financial support, we had in-kind donations of food, supplies, equipment, and, most importantly, the hard work of community members to make it all happen.  By the end of the day we had over 50 people volunteer over four hours to complete a year’s worth of work to support the Houston Playground.  Thank you to all who contributed to this event.

Looking back, battle scars and all, contributing with my community to the Houston Playground has been a rewarding growth opportunity for me.  Our team has had time to gel, the playground is in good standing, and we are poised to leap frog our success to go beyond what we built together this year.  My passion for bringing people together is still the reason I’m in this role.  I’m excited to work closer with WMAN and the Houston School community this year to go beyond providing a safe playground to our children and reaching to instill a sense of fun, camaraderie, and accomplishment in our neighborhood.

Thanks for reading…thanks for caring…and we hope to see you at our next workday at the playground!  It’s become a community fixture we treasure and intend to sustain for the long term.

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