T-Mobile volunteers wielded brushes and chatted as they filled in sketches, and City Year members were easily spotted striding the premises at Penrose Playground, sporting the corps’ signature red jackets and khakis. The repetitive tinkle of an ice cream truck wafted through the air, as a siren sung to the dozens of children running around the recreational area.
Following City Year’s nationwide “100 Hours of Power” kick-off celebration on April 21, 10-year-old kids crouched in front of an unfinished wall mural, focused intently on their handiwork at Penrose Playground, located at 12th Street and Susquehanna Avenue.
For four days, Temple students and community members volunteered for different shifts from 3:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. A large portion of the project was led by the Temple Youth VOICES Program and the University Community Collaborative of Philadelphia.
“We have about 50 people coming out today, for about 150 total [hours] over the course of the week,” said David Weinstein, a service leader at City Year Greater Philadelphia and coordinator of the project at Penrose Playground.
“We’re painting a mural on the exterior of the entire playground, installing garden plots and doing a cleanup of the whole center,” Weinstein said. “We’re going to refurbish the place throughout the course of a week.”
Andy Viren, a former City Year corps member who now works for the City of Philadelphia Recreation Department, said he deliberately came to work early so he could serve for a few hours that day.
“We had to switch some things around in our schedules, but on a day like this, it’s really great to be outside painting,” he said.
Senior Austin McLaughlin volunteered as a member of the Temple Youth VOICES Project, an outreach program for local high school students. He helped paint and plot gardens.
“It’s a fun time. You meet some great people. It’s good for the community, and you can’t beat the weather,” he said, gesturing up at the puffy clouds and robust sunshine.
The fourth-annual City Year service event engaged Philadelphia citizens in 100 hours of physical service in various pockets of the metropolitan area, with Penrose Playground as its largest site.
Volunteers went door-to-door asking residents what they would like to see on the wall of the recreation center to ensure the neighborhood would have a say in its new mural.
Weinstein said he expected a turnout of 1,000 volunteers at various project sites throughout Philadelphia like the St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, which operates a homeless shelter.
Children who attend the after-school program near Penrose Playground arrived in droves to beautify their playground.
“It’s important to take time out to do this,” said Grisel Garate, a City Year alum who currently resides in Manayunk. “To interact with these kids means so much to them.”
Monenjia Harvey, 8, goes to Penrose after school.
“I want to dig holes and help my community,” Harvey said with a dirt-smudged grin.
“The murals are being made by the same kids who spend time here,” Garate said. “To walk by a painting and see themselves on it makes them care more about where they’re playing and spending their time.”
Amid the swirl of impending finals, demanding work schedules and end-of-the-year revelry, Temple students and other young people made community service a priority.
“I still have a lot of work to do the rest of the semester, but I signed up for two shifts today, and I’m doing the same thing tomorrow,” McLaughlin said.
“I graduated college a couple years ago with a degree in biomedical sciences, so I know what that anxiety and overwhelming feeling is like,” Garate said. “I think something like this is a great breather. You get out of the library and take time to do something that is serving your community. With something like painting, you aren’t really thinking about it. It gives you a rest, a little break to kind of recoup.”
So what would Viren say to the harried Temple students who claim they have no free time to help at a service event like 100 Hours?
“What’s really cool, at least for people planning [to stay] in the area,” he said, “is that you can always come back to Penrose and see the mural on the wall and say, ‘I did that.’ Ten or 15 years down the road, you may not remember the exam you took in Spring 2009.”
Maureen Coulter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.