Volunteers build Grove Heights playground to strengthen community

kholtzman@vagazette.com

JAMES CITY – An army of nearly 250 volunteers, clad in light-green T-shirts, swarmed an empty space Saturday morning near Grove Heights Avenue.

In about five hours, the barren lot was transformed into a colorful playground, the new centerpiece of a Grove neighborhood thought by some to be long overdue for a makeover. This was the first stage of a larger-scale project for the lot. The restoration of a community building next to the play area is on deck.

By ribbon-cutting time Saturday afternoon, not only had a playground been constructed, but the foundation of a community had seemingly been strengthened.

“If we can build a playground, then we can build a better city,” Bishop William Dawson of Mt. Gilead Baptist Church said. “If we can build a better state, we can build a better nation.”

Mt. Gilead and Little Zion Baptist each are located within the Grove neighborhood, located just south of Busch Gardens.

The sparkling new playground replaced a previous recreation area formed 60 years ago by the two churches that partnered Saturday with volunteers from around the area, Williamsburg Health Foundation and KaBoom!.

KaBoom! is a Washington-based nonprofit organization that helps build and improve playgrounds around the country.

Dawson said the Grove neighborhood has historically been divided by race. To unite on Saturday was monumental, he said.

“Look around you,” Little Zion’s Jimmy Curtis said. “Blacks, whites - Nobody’s fighting and shooting… And it happened just by word of mouth, by saying, ‘Come help us.’”

The group was diverse not only in race, but in age. A strong contingent of College of William and Mary and local high school students were among the volunteers.

James City County Board of Supervisors member John McGlennon served as one of the event organizers.

“This property has always been a center of the Grove community,” he said. “It’s been the heart of the community and for many years it did serve as a social gathering place and recreation area. This is revitalizing that area and bringing back the heart to Grove.”

The new Grove Heights Park playground features swings, slides and plenty of places to climb and Curtis said the church youth groups had input on the design.

The facility will officially open to the public Wednesday.

Jeanne Zeidler of the Williamsburg Health Foundation said it’s important for families to have a place to safely gather to “be out in the fresh air and… move.”

James City County Administrator Bryan Hill expects similar recreation initiatives will follow.

“As we continue to look at James City County, we’re going try to fit pieces and places to allow folks to enjoy the open space,” Hill said. “This is just the start of one of many that we have planned in the future.”

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-345-2352.

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