FACES AND PLACES - Spring Service Day a win-win endeavor

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On April 17, students, faculty and staff of Walla Walla University, Whitman College and Walla Walla Community College joined together for the third annual Spring Service Day.

Coordinated by Ellie Veverka at Walla Walla University, Lina Menard at Whitman College, and VincentRuzicka at Walla Walla Community College, Spring Service Day offered hundreds of volunteers almost 30 projects from which to choose: stream restoration with Tri-State Steelheaders,no assisting with the Sweet Home Walla Walla historic home tour with the Kirkman House Museum, trail maintenance at Audubon, and clean up at the Humane Society.

"We wish to offer our time and skills to a community that has given its support and provided a nurturing environment in which to live and learn," says Lina Menard, Whitman's community service director.

She and her counterparts at the other colleges contacted nonprofit and city organizations throughout the area to identify projects for their volunteers. Each project had to be small enough to be finished within three hours on a Sunday morning,

One of the smaller projects was located downtown: a sprucing up of Heritage Park on Main Street. This park was once the site of a bustling department store, then an ill-fated mini-mall, and at one point a vacant lot.

Now owned by the city, Heritage Park is home to a small playground, a covered picnic area and an amazing art installation called Windows on the Past, a celebration of the cultural heritage of Walla Walla.

The park gets a variety of visitors, from downtown employees looking to have lunch in a peaceful spot to slightly rowdy but good-natured teens just hanging out.

The Mom's Network members come by weekly during their Monday morning walks, trailing what seems like 100 kids behind them.

Some park patrons are less careful than others about cleaning up after themselves and the able staff at Parks & Recreation can't always keep up with the wear and tear. So when Lina called the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation office for project suggestions, a spring cleaning of Heritage Park was an easy choice.

Thirteen volunteers met at the park on that chilly Sunday morning and gathered around a city storage bin nearly overflowing with fragrant wood shavings and topped with wheelbarrows, rakes, shovels, hoses and brooms.

A group of three split off to tackle the weeds around the perimeter of the park.

Another started hauling wood chips to the playground, while another group raked the chips into the worn spots under the slides. Still another group began scrubbing and disinfecting the metal tables and concrete surfaces of the picnic area.

With an occasional break for coffee, if only to warm frozen fingers, these college students cheerfully completed their list of tasks. By the time noon rolled around, the nearly overflowing bin of wood shavings was empty and the park sparkled.

Spring Service Day is absolutely a win-win situation - the community benefits from hundreds of hours of service in city parks, the animal shelter and wildlife habitats. And the college students get the experience of truly being part of the community where they live and learn.

Jennifer Northam is events and public relations manager for the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation. Her contributions focus on the small stories from around the Valley that may not be big news but still deserve to be told.

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