What once was a dream for families of the North Pinellas YMCA became a reality over the weekend as nearly 100 community volunteers rallied to build a playground in one day.
What started as an empty space sprang into a fun-filled zone for children, complete with slides, a rock climbing area, jungle gym and monkey bars, all nestled under shady oaks.
At 7 a.m. Saturday, piles of mulch towered 6 feet high. Volunteers loaded wheelbarrows to spread the mulch across the ground. Others dug holes for support columns for playground equipment. Still others mixed bag after bag of cement to reinforce it all.
"This is a fantastic opportunity, seeing the community come together to build this playground," said Shannon Kimball, executive director of the YMCA of the Suncoast's North Pinellas branch.
The playground cost $40,000. Half the money was raised by the community and the other half came from the YMCA.
Mark Weinkrantz, an East Lake fire commissioner and YMCA Advisory Board member, worked beside several East Lake firefighters, the East Lake Sunrise Rotary and members of the East Lake Community Emergency Response Team.
The Rotary Club donated $3,600 for the YMCA to purchase recycled plastic picnic tables. Weinkrantz said one of his campaign promises was to donate his commissioner's salary of $500 a year. For the past four years, he has given 75 percent of it to the YMCA's playground fund.
"It's a crossroads for the community," Weinkrantz said.
Many of the volunteers who helped create the playground-in-a-day were YMCA members. Mike Capozzoli of Tarpon Springs stayed busy attaching nuts, bolts and braces to secure the equipment.
"I'm one for action, more than words," said Capozzoli. "So I'm here today taking action."
Jes Staltare, a 19-year-old University of Tampa student, helped build a slide and trucked wheelbarrows of mulch as part of the Serve on Saturday (SOS) group from Generation Christian Church in Trinity.
"We're doing this for the love of God," he said. "This is exactly what he would want us to do for the children."
Ten volunteers came from the Dunedin Waterside Rotary. "We're a club with little money to back us, but lots of energy," said Garry Hall, 29, who has a 2-year-old son.
Others handed out drinks and doughnuts to the working volunteers. People swarmed around the area, building, digging, cementing pipes, spreading mulch and finally placing bright blue faux-tile roofs atop sections of the playground equipment.
Leanne Matthews of Tarpon Springs, who was up early working, has been a Y member for seven years. She remembers the old wooden playground that stood in the same spot and had to be torn down.
"We used it twice a week," she said. "We'd eat lunch together here and the kids could play. It was one-stop shopping.
"I'm glad to see this playground going up. We can come here and work out, and the kids have a place to play at the same time."
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North Pinellas YMCA
What: More than 9,000 families and individuals use the YMCA of the Suncoast's North Pinellas branch. With its focus on youth, there is a Kids Zone, a nursery, a junior Olympic-sized swimming pool and six lighted tennis courts, as well as the new playground.
Where: 4550 Village Center Drive off of East Lake Road
Cost: Memberships cost $45 to $83 a month, depending on the number of people
Information: (727) 772-9622 or ymcasuncoast.org/locations/north-pinellas-branch