When a group of lawyers decided to transform a neglected park in southwest Detroit, they put down their legal pads, picked up paint brushes and got to work.
(SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTOS)
The 313 Project, started in 2009 by then first-year law students Aisa Villarosa, Erika Riggs and Juliana Rivera as a community-service student group, offers free legal clinics to underserved groups. But they also spend time each month with their Motion to Makeover project, which took on a major project -- Southwest Detroit's 26-acre Romanowski Park.
"It's a time each month the legal community can count on to get out into the community," Villarosa explained.
What started as a casual idea to work on a park took root when the group decided on Romanowski and approached Home Depot about getting materials, not expecting it to turn into a $16,500 grant from the company's foundation.
"Every time we came the park was crawling with kids," Villarosa said. "We wanted a place that was already embraced by the community."
Rodney Harris, manager of a Home Depot in Taylor who supported the group, said they were drawn to the diverse community that used the park, but weren't originally expecting a project of this magnitude.
"We've done half-a-dozen parks. We're thinking swings, cut the grass, we can do that," Harris said.
Instead, after five months of planning, several site visits and a day of prep, around 400 volunteers -- from Home Depot, the neighborhood, throughout the metro area and as far away as Bowling Green, Ohio -- came out last Thursday to give the park a much-needed makeover. They built picnic tables and bleachers, installed trash cans and grills, fixed concrete, painted the graffitied jungle gym and soccer field lines, added soccer and basketball hoop nets and much more.
The Motor City Blight Busters were out in full-force, boarding up six houses along the park and cleaning up the lots. The group got permission to focus on the Romanowski Park neighborhood, since neighbors said the abandoned homes were a safety concern for themselves and their children.
"Even though this is a one-day event it's great for jump-starting long-lasting change," said Villarosa.
"We're big on working with youth," she added. "I'm a children's attorney, but by the time I get young clients in court I reach them at a different time in their lives. I find it rewarding to see kids getting involved."
"We'd ask kids, 'If you could add anything to the park, what would it be?'" she said. "They said trash cans."
12-year-old Manzella Musad was at the volunteer day helping paint with her six-year-old brother and 10-year-old cousin.
"It was too dirty before, we didn't come," she said. "Now it's better."
Home Depot employee Chris "Cap" Parsons was one of the hundreds of adults volunteering time at Romanowski in Thursday's sweltering heat. But there was no question in his mind as to why he should be there on a day off.
"Because it's the right thing to do," he answereed.