The last Sunday morning in April, the Forest Hills Playground on Chesapeake Street was magical. The weather was perfect and the park was full of families with young children who were there for a very special community service project – the Forest Hills Playground’s annual ‘Spring Cleaning’ extravaganza. Though, perhaps it also felt enchanting because there was an actual magic show, but we’ll get to that later.
Armed with kid-size rakes, brooms and shovels, dozens of children ranging from two-year-olds to pre-teens spent the morning cleaning our neighborhood playground. They picked up garbage, swept sidewalks, and raked the recently replenished sandbox.
Three-year-old Alexander DeSimone, who was helping his mom Helen Dooley sweep sand off the walk-ways and back into the sandbox, knew exactly why he was there that beautiful morning. “I came here to clean up, to have fun.” he said, holding a broom.
Nathalie Yu took a break from the work to test out one of the swings. As she glided through the air, pumping her legs back and forth, she echoed that sentiment, “I came for the party. I like the playground and want to help.” In fact, five-year-old Nathalie was so enthusiastic about the event that in addition to recruiting her parents as volunteers (her mom Gloria serves as Treasurer of the Friends of Forest Hills Playground (FOFHP), the nonprofit that hosted the event), she brought her grandmother Chengmei Hou and grandfather Xuede Yu who were visiting from China. Natalie put them all to work.Two-year-old siblings Peyton and William Rauser focused their efforts on inspecting toys to make sure they were safe for kids to play with. A tradition unique to Forest Hills Playground is that families donate gently-used toys their children have outgrown, recycling them so that all kids can enjoy them at the park. With frequent use, many of these items tend to deteriorate over time. During the clean-up, volunteers carefully inspected each toy and discarded those deemed to be in poor condition. Peyton and William were very busy helping with this important task by testing out trikes and bikes on the blacktop area. “I’m riding a bike,” Peyton exclaimed as she gently pedaled a red tricycle. “I like that pink scooter,” William announced, giving his official approval that it made the cut.
The day was made extra sweet thanks to the help of four-year-old Kennedy Kranenburg and her mom Katherine who organized a table of delicious baked goodies for the volunteers to enjoy. The sweet treats were provided by the families in Room 1 of Franklin Montessori and FOFHP Board Members. “I helped my mom put muffins and doughnuts on the table,” Kennedy said. Her contribution was greatly appreciated.
One of the most hardworking young volunteers was twelve year-old Asa Nugent, a sixth grader at Deal Middle School. Asa, who worked without rest that morning, helped restore the fire-truck play-structure by digging out the sand that had swallowed its lower portion; revealing seating and a tunnel that most forgot even existed because they had been buried for so long.
“This was my park when I was little,” Asa said. “My mom and I called it ‘our park’ because we came here almost every day,” he recalled. Although Asa may have outgrown the playground years ago, he continues to look after it, often helping his mother Eileen Kane who has served as the Vice President of FOFHP over the past five years. “I like helping with its upkeep,” Asa continued, “I help out every year with projects like this.” As a bonus this year, Asa was able to earn community service credit for his work.While three-year-old Leif Engler said his favorite thing about the playground is usually “the slides and playing with friends,” on this particular day he eagerly awaited a magic show performance by the famous Noland the Magician, a special treat provided to the volunteers by FOFHP. But true to Washington, D.C. form, Noland came with serious security detail, five-year old twins Ella and Zoe Wood. Both girls stood guard next to Noland and his big black box of mysterious magic tricks while other children, including Leif, walked by before the show to sneak a peek.
“We’re guarding this box of magic stuff,” said Ella, who took her responsibility very seriously. “It’s an important job,” chimed in Zoe. They were correct. Noland’s magic show was the highlight of the day.
During the hour-long performance, Nolan the Magician had the children roaring with laughter as they sat on the black-top mesmerized by one magic trick after another. Several of the children were selected to assist, including six-year-old Helen DeSimone. While Nolan asked Zoe Wood to be a chef and help make a magic omelet, Sarah Pan, four years-old, and Ethan, five years-old, thought they too were chosen to assist the magician. But to their surprise, instead Nolan pretended to marry them, a union that both children adamantly protested as void due to lack of consent.
All the children said the magic show was their favorite part of the day. “I liked it when the magician kept seeing hot dogs everywhere and pulled some out of his sleeve, said Helen DeSimone. Five-year old Ari Priniotakis agreed, “I liked the hot dog act the best, especially when [Nolan] turned his wand into a hotdog.” Ari’s two year-old brother Joseph didn’t have a favorite act because he loved all of Nolan’s performance.
After the show, some kids and parents returned to straightening up the playground before packing up. My own daughters, Sophia and Mika Roof, five and two, picked up rakes to clean the sandbox. When it was time to leave, Sophia protested “We don’t want to go home, we want to clean.” If only they were so eager to help out at home. Now that would be magical.
For more information about the Friends of Forest Hills Playground, including upcoming events and opportunities to provide support, please visit www.foresthillsplayground.org.