Volunteer project

Installation Honors Families of Board Members

It was already hot at 9 a.m. on a Saturday in May when about 25 volunteers gathered on a grassy lot behind the Cabell-Wayne Association of the Blind (CWAB) in Huntington to install a play area. A concrete pad had been poured earlier, and a pavilion had been built, with trusses constructed and installed by students in Hugh Roberts’ carpentry class at Cabell Career and Technical Center.

Volunteers watched as John Perry of Grass Busters manned a Ventrac tractor and tiller to break up and remove the sod. In the sweltering 90-degree heat, volunteers pulled out chunks of sod, broken brick and other debris. Others pulled out the remains of a submerged horseshoe pit. Mark Springer of Lavalette Landscaping remembered installing the pit decades ago.

After the grass was removed, work began to dig, line with fabric, fill and tamp down gravel on the paths around the pavilion and the quadrants. The divisions will form themed play areas in the Natural Learning Environment.

The project is the brainchild of WVNLA board member and past president Dave Hill and current president Steve Saunders. Both have designated the funds available to them from the President’s Projects fund for this installation. Dave, who is a certified Natural Learning Environment  designer and installer, wished to create the playground at CWAB in honor of a former board member Mike Bartholomew, whose daughter was born with serious eye issues.

Dave became interested in natural playgrounds after learning about a study that showed that children are losing the ability to play imaginatively. Their days are filled with structured activities in which a leader instructs them.

In a Natural Learning Environment, children use objects found in nature to create their own games and fun, without any instruction. The deceivingly simple set-up actually holds their attention longer than a playground filled with bright plastic equipment.

Subsequently, Steve added his president’s project allocation to the cause. Steve’s uncle and aunt, Willis and Mary Ann Saunders, were both blind and were active at CWAB.

Steve’s cousin Teri Saunders Booten, who is Willis and Mary Ann’s daughter, brought her family and friends, including five strong young men, to give a substantial labor boost to the project. “Both Mom and Dad were completely blind. Mom lost her sight as an infant when she developed an eye infection in 1940. They began to use antibiotics to treat eye infections in 1941. Dad had a rare bone condition that pinched off his optic nerve. Neither of them had any visual memory,” Teri explained.

Her parents met at the Romney School for the Deaf and Blind and eventually settled in Huntington, where they were active at CWAB. Teri’s father has passed away, but her mother still lives in Huntington.

In preparation for the project, Dave and Steve picked up and delivered supplies. Steve brought a bobcat, plate compactor and a dump truck to remove debris. John Perry also provided a power rake and tiller.

At the conclusion of Day One, the soil had been turned, landscape fabric placed, gravel pathways installed and the perimeter landscaping planted. A mix of family, friends and WVNLA members and employees all worked steadily. John Perry brought six Grass Busters employees who volunteered to help. Steve Saunders had four Saunders Lawn Care employees helping out. TerraCare landscape designer Eleanor Gould and her friend and landscape student Maram Moushmoush put in a full day’s work, as did Mark Springer, and, of course, Dave Hill.

“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to help install this beautiful playground,” Eleanor said, adding that she hadn’t had a chance to work on one in her career and was anxious to see what they were all about. 

With the landscape and structural bones in place, the playground’s features will take shape during the next work party on Saturday, June 11, volunteers worked to:

  • Construct wooden boxes for sandboxes and containers for loose parts in the Calm Play area;
  • Install stump steppers, a balance bridge and an elevated log in the Active Play area, along with an earthen slide, boulders and a rope rail;
  • Construct benches to be placed in the grassy Open Play area and other spaces;
  • Install talking tubes and sound tubes in the Music Area: and
  • Plant fragrant perennials and shrubs with soft structures that will attract butterflies and insects in the Sensory Garden, and also install log seats in the area.