As a crowd of about 50 volunteers bustled around the Jewel J. Newman Community Center Saturday, hauling bags of concrete mix, digging from a massive pile of mulch and fitting together plastic pieces, a new structure began to take shape.
Over the course of the day’s work under the hot May sun, the concrete foundation laid in the center’s front yard gradually disappeared and a brand-new, state-of-the-art playground sprung up in its place.
It is the first time in the center’s 30-year history that it will have an outdoor play area, manager Carla Powell said. And, she noted, it went up just in time for summer camp to start next week.
“It’s a place where the kids can go have fun outside, and it’s great the community can come to help,” Powell said.
Volunteers wearing shirts from ExxonMobil and Omega Psi Phi fraternity made up much of the crowd, brought together by Harry Wells, Jewel J. Newman’s advisory board vice president.
Wells, a former ExxonMobil employee and Omega Psi Phi member, contacted the Black Employee Success Team, or BEST, an ExxonMobil employee public service group, to send a group of volunteers to help with the construction.
Gbenga Ojo, originally of Nigeria, and Jacquee Herron, an ExxonMobil intern attending Ohio State University, both BEST members, were leveling out piles of wood chips near where the swingset was being installed.
“Wherever you are, it helps to contribute to the community,” Ojo said.
While the construction took place over just eight hours Saturday, the project was the culmination of over a year of planning and fundraising by the BREC facility’s administration and staff.
The process began last year when the center was given a $15,000 grant from KaBOOM!, a nonprofit group that provides funding for community playground projects, Powell said. The center was expected to match the grant with $25,000 of its own money, which it simply didn’t have in the budget, Powell said.
Donations from ExxonMobil, Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport and Entergy, as well as other local businesses and community members, helped make up most of the money, Powell said, but there was still a gap that the center’s advisory council found creative ways to fill.
A masquerade ball, held last January and featuring live music, catering by students from the nearby Career Academy high school and a silent auction for donated items from businesses, helped raise money for the playground while providing some play time for the adults.
The ball was largely attended by members of the surrounding Scotlandville community, which Powell said showed the community’s strength and togetherness.
While volunteers massed around in the front, assembling the playground’s skeleton, Albert Poland worked away alone in the rear parking lot at his barbecue, grilling hamburgers and hot dogs for the volunteers, just as he does for fans and football players on Southern University fan days.
“I’m happy to do it, to feed everybody,” Poland said. “They’re all giving their time; I can, too.”